Michelle Dowling remembers her son Tiernan as a rambunctious, outdoorsy child who had lots of friends and put others’ needs before his own.
“He was such a loving person,” said Michelle. “He had a crazy, adventurous side to him – he was always trying to see how high he could climb, how far he could jump, how fast he could run.
“It was hard to get mad at him even when you probably should’ve been mad at times. It was hard not to just adore him. He had these large eyes and he’d give you this puppy dog face and it would basically just melt your heart.”
Tiernan, 8, died June 25 following a three-and-a-half month battle with cancer. He put up the fight of his life against NUT midline carcinoma, a rare and aggressive genetically defined form of cancer that resulted in multiple bone lesions and tumours throughout his body.
“It was a lot faster and sooner than we had expected,” said Michelle. “We thought we had the summer to spend together.
“He was going for a routine scan and he got quite sick within hours of having the scan. He passed the very next day.”
While the Gordon Head family opted not to do an autopsy, Michelle said they believe a large internal growth in Tiernan’s skull, which had caused the right side of his brain to shift into the left hemisphere, ultimately ended his life, allowing him to “drift off” rather than suffer longer.
“He had a few tumours close to his airway that were already compressing his airway, which was making it hard for him to breathe at times,” she said. “This was a much more peaceful way for him to go.”
The story of Tiernan’s diagnosis gripped Saanich when it was announced in March. A GoFundMe campaign set up for the family has generated more than $72,000 to date from nearly 800 backers.
Michelle said her family has been comforted by the generosity of relatives and friends.
“People have been dropping off home-cooked meals every day since we’ve been home, and a couple of friends of our daughter put her in tennis camp for two weeks. Everyone’s been wonderful.”
In memory of Tiernan, the Dowlings, along with other family members and friends, hiked up Mount Wells in Langford on Saturday. Michelle said she and Tiernan went on numerous other hikes, and the challenging Mount Wells hike symbolizes the challenges they and other families go through when losing a loved one, as well as the struggle Tiernan went through.
“Although Tiernan didn’t complain much in the last few months, he definitely had an upward battle,” said Michelle.
“We all miss him and he’ll never be forgotten.”