Rowan is the first and only child of Melissa Kennedy and Ryan Wiita. Rowan was always one of those babies that had a little grin that made everyone smile, always exploring, challenging boundaries and keeping a close eye on his mommy and daddy whom he loves so much. He loves playing in the backyard, goofing around with mommy and daddy, reading books, learning about the world, attempting to befriend his cats and hanging out with his toddler buddies. A typical toddler with extraordinary parents who would move heaven and earth for their child.
The nightmare began in early September when Rowan’s parents noticed a large swollen lump in Rowan’s neck. They immediately brought him in to the hospital and were told it was a common swollen lymph node likely caused by a virus and was treated as such but if it didn’t go away to bring him back. The swelling didn’t go away, and Rowan began having difficulties breathing and was brought back to Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital where several tests were immediately ordered. I have been described the scene and it still haunts me. I can’t imagine the terror and helplessness you would feel watching your child, your little guy, your baby turning blue struggling to breath surrounded by a swarm of Doctors trying to save his life. That day they did. Mel and Ryan were told that it was likely cancer and that there was a tumour in his chest pushing against his airway and heart making it hard for him to breath. They were immediately rushed by ambulance to SickKids Toronto ICU. The short ride there I image felt like crossing the country. The message I received from Mel describes it best “We have every specialist. Every one. There can’t possibly be any more elsewhere in Canada because they are all here. Cancer confirmed. My baby.” I can’t imagine the mix of emotions of comfort and fear of knowing that so many doctors are there just for your son.
The next day a successful biopsy was performed on his lymph node by some of the best Doctors in the country who described the procedure as “extremely dangerous”. It was then that Rowan’s parents learned of his specific type of cancer, T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma or T-ALL, and that he will require heavy chemotherapy treatment for likely years to come. Their lives have changed forever. Rowan, like other chemo patients, will sometimes not be able to attend playgroups, festivals, crowded playgrounds or even grocery stores like other toddlers when treatment causes an additional risk of him catching a virus that with his compromised immune system could potentially be deadly. He will spend his 2nd birthday at the Ronald McDonald house.
I have known Ryan and Melissa for many years and have always been grateful for their friendship. They are the most humble, selfless and giving individuals I have ever known. Ryan is a skilled carpenter who has created some of the most stunning pieces of furniture I have ever seen. Mel is a talented goldsmith who has always had a passion for creating. Both would agree Rowan is their greatest creation. They are very private people and I have never known of them asking for help. In one of the first conversations I had with Mel after Rowan’s diagnosis her and Ryan spoke of winning the lottery so that she could give everything they could to SickKids and Ronald McDonald House, they are truly selfless human beings that need our help.
With a child’s cancer diagnosis inevitably comes increased expenses and reduced income. Ryan has been off work since the original trip to the hospital and won’t return until Rowan is past these critical stages and frequent, sometimes daily, hospital treatments that leave Rowan ill and the family taxed. It is unlikely Mel will be able to return to work for years after originally planned as Rowan will most likely not be able to attend daycare/preschool in the years to come with the immune system issues and the amount of time needed for continued, frequent appointments and treatments. They are currently living by his side at SickKids and Ronald McDonald house out of suitcases filled with mostly home comforts for Rowan. They have worked hard, saved for years and bought their own house Ryan was fixing up when not travelling for work. They have car payments, mortgage payments, insurance and hydro bills added to the cost of travel to and from Toronto for years to come for Rowan’s continued treatment with only Ryan’s EI payments currently coming in.
Which brings us to today. Everyone knew that Rowan was a tough kid but nobody knew he was a warrior! With every test performed, biopsy, tube inserted, needle injected, with every x-ray, CT scan and dose of chemotherapy treatment, Rowan has gotten back up and continued to be, well… Rowan. He has continued to play hide and seek, play with his toys and giggle with mommy and daddy because he knows they need those moments of love as much as he does. He has taken everything cancer has thrown at him and fought back. Rowan has been in far too many battles in his short life and now he needs our help, his own army to win this fight! I am asking anyone that can donate to help Rowan and his parents take on this monster they call cancer with mind unfettered with paying bills.
Be a part Rowan’s fight to show Rowan, Mel and Ryan how many people care, how many people stand behind them and how they are not alone!
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