Make every moment count.
That is the mantra that has guided the Comboye family since three-year-old Liam, the oldest of two sons, received a diagnosis of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).
An aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer, it attacks the middle of the brain stem and has a low rate of survival. “They are just enjoying every single moment that they have,” said Lindsay Walper, Liam’s aunt.
She spoke those words in Saanichton’s Centennial Park, mere steps away from a bouncy castle, where children, many not much older than Liam, are jumping up and down, filling the air-filled contraption with shrieks of joy.
They, along with their parents, have come to show their support for Liam and the B.C. Children’s Hospital by participating in another fundraiser for the family that featured all the trappings of a fun afternoon in the park.
A face-painting tent turned toddlers into superheroes, at least for a few hours, on this sunny September afternoon.
Agustin Torres, the Saanich-based realtor who helped organize the event, grilled hot dogs while his helper handed out soda cans and small bags of chips to the 100 or so who came from across the Greater Victoria area.
Parents sat with their children in a nearby patch of grass or made them chase soccer balls on the large field just down the slope from where Games 2U had set up the bouncy castle and an obstacle course. Overall, the event raised $1,773, split equally between B.C. Children’s Hospital and Liam’s family.
But Liam, his mother Cari, father Mike and nine-month-old brother Brody could not come themselves, as Liam’s tumour has doubled in size since July despite chemotherapy.
The knowledge of Liam’s likely future, or rather the knowledge of the possibilities potentially denied, was present throughout. Such thoughts debilitate, raise unanswerable questions and create their own imperatives all at once.
“How can any parent be doing when you are told that your child is dying?” said Walper, when asked about her sister.
“She is not doing very good, to be honest. She is struggling. Reality is very hard. You don’t want to think ahead. You are living in the moment. That’s all you have. You can’t think about the future, because the future doesn’t have him in it at all.”
Tashia Brewer, Cari’s best friend, is also grappling with this reality. She has known Liam’s mother since they were about 11 years old.
“We grew up together, we had our babies together, we got married together,” said Brewer. “We have been through everything together, I mean everything.”
Brewer’s daughter, Lily, is four months older than Liam and they grew up with each other. “They have been together like me and Cari the whole time” she said. “Lily and Liam.”
Brewer said news of Liam’s cancer shocked and angered her. “He doesn’t understand what’s going on,” she said. “It has basically stolen his life away. He is not progressing, he is not learning, he cannot do public things, he cannot go out and play normally like he used to. It has basically taken everything.”
Brewer said her daughter Lily constantly asks about Liam. “Everything that she does, she asks if he is coming. Everything that she does with friends, every park, every place, she asks if Liam is coming. When I tell her that Liam is too sick, she tells me she is sick too. That is where her mentality is.”
Brewer’s 62-year-old mother recently died of cancer and she is not yet prepared to tell Lily the full extent of what lies ahead. This recent, personal history with cancer has inevitably coloured Brewer’s response.
“My mom died of lung and brain cancer less than a year ago, and there is so much research,” she said. “There is no hope in DIPG. As I said to Cari, I would literally lose my mom 10 times over for him to be OK. She had choices. Liam has none.”