Two months ago, Malcolm Coulter was a healthy six-year-old.
He was attending school at Hammond elementary, where his mother, Tammy Jones, had just started teaching, and his two older sisters, Dara, 8, and Macy, 11, also attend.
Although he had the flu a couple of times last winter and was dragging a bit, he was still acting like a normal boy, one who enjoyed playing Skylanders, Pokemon, Wii and building Lego. He also enjoyed kicking the soccer ball around, playing ball hockey with his eldest sister and dancing with both of them, especially in competition with the Wii game Just Dance.
Malcolm had been having occasional headaches and vomiting episodes, but it wasn’t until mid-April when he went to the ACT with his family to watch Dara perform in the Showstoppers Academy production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid Junior that he turned to his mom and told her he was seeing double in his right eye.
This was the second time he’d had double vision in days, so he visited an optometrist in Maple Ridge.
“He had nothing really alarming,” said Malcolm’s mother.
Just the headaches and vomiting.
“The doctors even said normally they wouldn’t be worried about that either. We thought it might have been the stomach flu since it had been going around in January. But it was the double vision that sent us to the doctor,” Jones said.
The optometrist told them that the optic nerves in both eyes were swollen and referred Malcolm to a pediatric ophthalmologist in Surrey. Three days later, the ophthalmologist told them to go straight to the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
After a CT scan, doctors discovered that Malcolm had a golf-ball-sized brain tumor at the back of his head, sitting on his brain stem.
He was diagnosed on April 26 with malignant madulloblastoma.
Neurosurgeons performed emergency brain surgery the next day to remove the tumor. They were able to get the bulk of it out but, not wanting to touch the brain stem, were only able to shave the rest of the tumor down.
Now Malcolm is facing more than a year of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Every Monday to Friday, for 15 to 20 minutes each morning, Malcolm receives radiation therapy at the B.C. Cancer Agency in Vancouver.
For the first three weeks he received radiation for both his spine and brain. But now just for his brain.
“He has been tolerating it with an anesthetic,” said Malcolm’s grandmother, Darlene Holmes.
In total, Malcolm will have six weeks of radiation therapy. He has already finished three.
He’s also started chemotherapy, every Monday.
“The combination of the one chemotherapy drug with the radiation seems to get good results with his cancer,” said Jones.
Once his radiation therapy has ended, Malcolm will have a four week recovery period before starting nine six-week cycles of intensive chemotherapy.
His chemotherapy treatments will require him to spend three days in hospital. It will take him five and a half weeks to recover, building up blood counts before doing the process all over again.
He will be receiving chemo until September 2014.
In the meantime, his mother has since left her teaching job to stay at home with him.
On Thursday, friends of Holmes and members of the Royal Canadian Legion Ladies Auxiliary, Branch 263 out of Coquitlam, gave Malcolm a special Teddy bear to raise his spirits and help him through his therapy.
Legion president Fran McDiarmid and past-president Isabelle Nisbet met Malcolm at his home in Maple Ridge to give him the bear. It has a cassette deck in its leg and came with seven tapes. Each one discusses a different topic, from relaxation and deep breathing techniques, set to peaceful music, to help him cope with his therapy.
It is one of the last bears distributed by the ladies auxiliary, as the program has been discontinued.
Still, McDiarmid says the bears are meant to boost the esteem of sick children.
“We are hoping that this is going to make life a little easier for him,” Nisbet added. “It is so sad to be so young and have to carry so much pain.”
One of the things Malcolm wants to do when he gets better is to try hip hop dancing.
There is an 80 per cent cure rate for the cancer treatment program Malcolm is on.
“So we’ve got our fingers crossed that things will turn out well,” said Jones.