Four-year-old Liam dreams of becoming a firefighter one day. You can often find him walking the halls of SickKids wearing his firefighter costume as he fights a battle of a different kind – cancer.
Shortly after his third birthday, and after months of experiencing mysterious stomach pains, Liam was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer that has a high occurrence for relapse. He was given a 50% chance of survival.
His parents, Heather and Andrew, were devastated.
“No parent should ever hear the words ‘your child has cancer,’” said Heather. “But if you do, you want to make sure you and your child are in the best hands. We felt confident that we had that at SickKids.”
Liam immediately began an aggressive treatment that has included 7 rounds of chemo, a surgery to remove one adrenal gland (where the tumours originated), a stem cell transplant, 12 rounds of radiation and 4 rounds of immunotherapy with one left to go.
During this time, Heather and Andrew were not willing to just stand by and wait. They wanted to help make a difference for Liam and for the hundreds of other children fighting neuroblastoma. And they were not alone in this feeling. Friends, family and community members came together and formed Liam’s Brigade with a goal to raise money in support of The James Fund for Neuroblastoma Research at SickKids.
“A cancer diagnosis makes a parent feel helpless but fundraising for SickKids helps us feel empowered,” said Andrew. “By raising money for neuroblastoma research, we feel like we are one step ahead of this aggressive disease.”
On Sunday, October 25, Liam’s Brigade will continue their fundraising efforts with the Second Annual Monster March.
“Liam’s birthday falls right before Halloween, so every year we held a ‘Little Monsters’ party for him,” said Andrew. “After his diagnosis last year, we didn’t want to break that tradition.”
The family was so overwhelmed with the amount of support they received after Liam’s diagnosis that they wanted to harness it to help make a difference. After learning that The James Fund Fun Run & Walk, which takes place in Peterborough, corresponded with Liam’s birthday, the family decided to create a fundraising team and run an event based out of their hometown of Oakville. Almost 200 people showed up, dressed in costume, to take part in the first annual Monster March, which concluded with a huge birthday celebration for Liam at the local fire station.
“We raised $12,000 last year and were so inspired by the turnout that we have committed to making it an annual family event,” said Heather.
This year’s event will begin with fun and games at Oakville’s downtown square before the official start of the Monster March at 1 p.m. Families are encouraged to dress up in their Halloween costumes and join the March to help raise awareness, and funds, for neuroblastoma. Alternatively, you can support the family’s fundraising efforts by donating online.
To date, Liam’s Brigade has raised more than $40,000 in support of neuroblastoma research.
Liam has told his parents that he wants to be a hero when he grows up. But to his parents, he already is one.
“He has inspired so many people with his strength and positive spirit,” said Heather. “He is determined to put out this fire!”