Cancer through the eyes of a child

Five-year-old Chandler Cousineau held his father’s hand as they walked around the track at Pither’s Point here Friday evening.
Both wore dark blue ribbons pinned to their shirts.
Both are cancer survivors.
“He had thyroid cancer. We all had thyroid cancer,” Paul Cousineau said while walking the survivors’ lap to kick off the second-annual “Relay for Life” with his son and his father, Bernard.
“Do ya wanna see my scar?” Chandler asked enthusiastically, lifting his chin to reveal a think white line across his neck.
“I had cancer when I was four years old,” explained the little boy, wearing a deep red shirt and matching hat.
But when asked if he remembers what having cancer was like, Chandler shook his head determinedly. “No, that was a long time ago,” he answered.
Thyroid cancer runs in the youngster’s family. His grandfather had it when he was in his 30s, his father when he was 16.
As a precaution, Paul Cousineau and his wife, Lisa, had the thyroids of their children removed to prevent it from happening to them.
“We didn’t know he had cancer until they sent [the thyroid] away. When the tests came back, it showed he had full blown cancer,” Paul Cousineau said while taking a deep breath.
Lisa Cousineau noted thyroid cancer can spread quickly to other glands such as the pituitary.
“It’s just so stunning to think that at four years old, it developed into cancer,” Lisa Cousineau added, tearing up.
Right now, Chandler has doctors in California, Rochester, Mn., and Toronto all looking after him.
“They’re all trying to find out what triggers it,” his mom remarked.
Thinking back to his own experience with the disease, Paul Cousineau said his son handled the illness better than he did.
“I had cancer but I tried to block it all out,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to acknowledge I had it. I wanted to get on with my life.”
Back then, he said things were different. “Cancer was taboo. People didn’t talk about it,” he noted.
Having cancer is no longer a deep dark secret. Dozens of survivors like Chandler walked the “survivors’ victory lap” Friday evening. Volunteers also lit candles in memory or in honour of those who had the disease.
A circle of light from the candles guided the more than 400 participants in their 12-hour relay, which raised $73,000 for cancer treatment and research.
Chandler was far from the only child wearing a blue “survivor ribbon” at the relay. Rebecca Chambers, 17, and Alex Parent, 13, together carried the banner for “survivors” at the event.
Rebecca had an endodermal sinus tumor when she was two-and-a-half, undergoing two surgeries and chemotherapy treatments to beat the disease.
When he was five, Alex discovered he had a tumor—the same kind that struck Terry Fox—just two days before Christmas. His right leg later had to be amputated.
“People shouldn’t assume kids don’t get cancer,” Rebecca Chambers warned. “Anybody can get cancer.”
Both are feeling good and say they won’t let the disease take over their lives.
“I feel great and I’ve been swimming for five years,” Alex Parent said.
As the survivors’ lap ended, Chandler Cousineau seemed ready to put thoughts cancer behind him. He’s been healthy for the past year and is as energetic as other kids his own age.
“Gotta go,” Chandler said, letting go of his father’s hand and chasing after his older brother.
“Hey!” he yelled, almost tripping. “Wait up!”