After a difficult battle with leukemia, Nick Geddes and his family possess a rare insight into the thin line between fragility and strength.
Today, Nick is a picture of that strength: the professional mountain biker with a lifetime of elite-level athletics, he's about to graduate from UBC graduate and embark on a career as an engineer.
But it was just five years ago that he felt depleted—and his family felt helpless.
After he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2011, his treatment included a bone marrow transplant, a procedure to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. The protocol for care after the transplant involves nearly a month in isolation, to avoid infection while the immune system recovers and to help build white blood cells.
Like so many families of a child facing a life-threatening illness, Lisa, Nick’s father Bill and his younger brother and sister, felt powerless.
“The most difficult part of Nick’s treatment for us as parents and for his two younger siblings was to witness the pain and suffering Nick went through due to his treatment,” says Lisa Geddes, Nick’s mom. It was particularly stressful for the family, she adds, "during the bone marrow transplant protocol, isolation and healing process while being utterly helpless to ‘make it better’ or ‘make it go away.'"
Lisa and Bill's eldest son has always been an engaged little boy who loved outdoors and anything related to sports. Eventually, along with his younger brother, he excelled at skiing and mountain biking, and competed at elite levels in both sports.
But throughout 2011, Nick experienced a string of sudden infections and odd illnesses that seemed abnormal in such a strong, athletic teen.
In the autumn of 2011, after a mountain bike crash in California and a stay at Stanford Children's Hospital, he was diagnosed with leukemia, flown to Vancouver and admitted to BC Children's Hospital.
During his difficult treatment at BC Children’s Hospital, the Whistler-based family also had to deal with the stress involved in separating the family. They found solace in community support, including sports-related fundraisers organized by fellow athletes and friends.
Friends installed a stationary bike in his room at BC Children's Hospital which turned out to be a symbol of his bridge from sickness to health. Each day, he rode a little more, a little further than the day previous, as he and his family waited for his healthy blood count to build. About 31 days after the transplant, Nick left the isolation room and eventually returned to health.
Lisa and Bill say they appreciated that Nick's oncologists at BC Children’s Hospital, Drs. Geoff Davis and Tim Prestige, who are so accustomed to treating small children, saw their son as an independent, sophisticated teenager and treated him as such.
"They were open with communicating procedures, treatments and options throughout Nick's treatment; [they spoke] to Nick as an adult and treated him with respect...with smiles and senses of humour despite what we were all going through."
Their gratitude inspired the Geddes family to launch Families Fighting Cancer in the Sea to Sky, a group that supports those in the region with children dealing with a cancer diagnosis. The effort helps provide financial and other assistance as families face the stress of treatment and travel to and from BC Children's.