Brooke McNeill

After an active year of bike riding, horseback riding, ballet dancing and gymnastics, Brooke McNeill is ready to get back to school and start Grade 2.

It’s a regular phase of life for most children, but for Port Coquitlam’s McNeill family, the return to familiar life is refreshing and exciting after more than a year of dealing with the effects of cancer treatment.

In the beginning, it was a cartwheel that did it. “Looking back, a simple cartwheel and subsequent tumble during a musical theater class seemed like a non-event but, as it turned out, that simple thing may have saved her life,” says Brooke’s father, Bill.

Brooke, five at the time, fell on her hip after the cartwheel. It turned serious when Brooke’s parents, Bill and Denise, noticed blood in her urine. After some tests, doctors at BC Children’s Hospital found that the young girl had Wilms’ tumour, a cancer that affects the kidney. The tumble had ruptured a tumour caused by the cancer that, by that time, had already spread to many parts of her body.

“As surprising and sudden a diagnosis as it was, the fact that she fell doing a cartwheel and burst the tumour saved her life,” Bill says. “The cancer had already spread to her lungs. Without any visible sign, it could have gone undetected for several weeks or months.”

Brooke underwent surgery to remove her right kidney and endured more than 32 weeks of chemotherapy, along with radiation. Brooke wrapped up her treatment just before Christmas in 2014. Fortunately, the survival rate for children diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour stands at about 90 per cent, thanks to the last two decades of research, according to Brooke’s oncologist, Dr. Caron Strahlendorf.

Looking back, the McNeills see the caregivers at BC Children’s Hospital as unsung heroes. “You’re always cognizant of the work they do, but you get a true appreciation of how amazing they all are when you see it first-hand.”

Brooke has her own brutally honest perspective on the past year. Though she acknowledges it was a rough period of her life, she appreciates it was all worth it.

She says, “I’m all better now from the chemo. Even though it’s a little gross, it makes you better.”