This is Part 2 of a three-part series highlighting Greater Victoria families who cope with childhood cancers. Find Part 1 here.
Cole Fairfield-Carter was only two years old when when his symptoms started. In less than a month, a hidden tumour found on the back of his brain sent the family’s sense of security into a tailspin.
It was June 2008, and Cole’s family immediately moved to Vancouver from their Victoria home for the better part of two years.
“We got an MRI and the next day we flew by helicopter to B.C. Children’s Hospital. That was it, I moved that day,” says P.J. Fairfield-Carter, Cole’s mom. “I don’t know that other families could do what we did,”
Cole underwent two surgeries within days. High dose chemotherapy was next. P.J. was forced to quit her job while dad, Brian, was flexible enough to work from home and manage elder sibling, Nicholas.
Six years later, Cole is cancer-free and a pretty normal kid who wants an iPad, iPhone, and other electronic wizardry from Santa Claus or the money from a paper route he hopes to get when he’s older. He golfs at Highland Pacific and swims at Gordon Head Rec Centre.
“I can’t wait for my driver’s license,” Cole says. “Then I’ll get my car – a GMC Terrain with satellite radio.”
There was a time when P.J. was unsure Cole would make it to three years old, let alone 16 and driving. When Cole first showed symptoms, they were infrequent and difficult for doctors to connect to cancer. He began experiencing a droopy eye and some balance issues. Cole was soon vomiting uncontrollably and an MRI revealed a sizeable medulloblastoma tumour.
After treatment, Cole joined a rare club – one in a million – when he suffered cerebellar mutism, a subsequent disorder that caused major setbacks until he was ready to be released periodically from hospital in 2009 and 2010. The effects still linger.
“It can be quite severe and shuts everything off,” P.J. says. “Maybe it’s from the surgery, or the cancer, we don’t know. We just know Cole is in the first generation of survivors for this type of situation.”
Balance, vision, speech and high-frequency hearing loss are all affected by cerebellar mutism.
“We recreated the wheel getting him to walk from three years old. We didn’t know if he would get there,” P.J. says.
Only Cole’s family and close friends can now recognize the lasting effects of his illness. He’s nearly recovered full use of his faculties, with what P.J. describes as a thread of paralysis. Feeling blessed and having experienced the fight of their lives, P.J. and Brian now volunteer with the B.C. Childhood Cancer Parent’s Association.
“There are families who are not as lucky. They have sold their houses, declared bankruptcy ... whatever they needed to do to help their child,” P.J. says.
The couple is now participating in the Inside Ride fundraising cycling event on Oct. 26, which benefits the BCCPA.
P.J.’s team, the Fairfield Funny Farmers, is picking up pledges for a shift on a stationary bike at Langford’s Eagleridge Community Centre. See more at Victoria.theinsideride.com.