On Wednesday Kaleb paid his classmates at Rocky Mountain Elementary School a surprise visit before moving to the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
Three months ago, Kaleb Hills-Dagenais was an ordinary 10-year-old boy.
Then a lower back injury thought to be the result of a car crash led to the discovery of a cancerous tumour wrapped around his spinal cord.
Now, the Elkford child is confined to a wheelchair as he slowly regains mobility after major surgery to remove the tumour, which compressed his nerves and rendered him unable to walk.
Kaleb has been diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, a blood cancer in the lymph nodes, and on Monday finished his first month of chemotherapy.
He has a long battle ahead with another six months of intensive chemo followed by up to three years of maintenance, but is staying positive, according to mom Kelsey Hills.
“He’s been a trooper,” she said.
“It’s been a whirlwind, I don’t know where the last month of my life has gone between appointments.
“We’re busy five days a week. Mondays we have chemo, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he has been doing his physio and rehabilitation, and Fridays he has chemo again.”
Kelsey suffered whiplash when the car she and Kaleb were travelling in collided with an elk just outside of the Line Creek mine in October.
When Kaleb complained of lower back pain, doctors suspected a pinched nerve. However, his condition only worsened and eventually he lost all function in his legs.
“We had gone down to Creston to have an early Christmas with my parents and we had lots of sleepless nights with a lot of pain before that, but we were doing physio and we thought he was getting better,” Kelsey recalled.
“Then Saturday, December 9, he started getting a lot of pain and when we went to go home on the 10th, he could barely hold his body weight up.”
Fearful for her boy, Kelsey drove Kaleb to Cranbrook hospital the following day and he was flown to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, with his dad Jason Dagenais by his side.
Three hours after an MRI scan confirmed the problem, Kaleb was in surgery during which doctors were able to remove 95 per cent of the tumour.
However, the cancer had already spread to his bone marrow and on December 18, Kelsey and Jason received the devastating news their son had B-cell lymphoma.
Kaleb spent Christmas in hospital, with his parents travelling between Elkford and Vancouver as they juggled supporting two households while caring for him.
“It’s been trying,” admitted Kelsey.
“My parents came up with the kids and my ex’s girlfriend came up. It was a long trek for everyone.”
Fortunately, Kaleb was able to get a referral to Calgary and on Wednesday he was looking forward to paying his classmates at Rocky Mountain Elementary School a surprise visit before moving to the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
STAY TUNED: Watch the moment Kaleb returns to his school. Video coming January 24.
Kelsey said she is overwhelmed by the support she has received from the community and her colleagues at Rocky Mountain Village in Fernie.
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” she said.
A GoFundMe page set up by Kaleb’s grandmother Justina Rake has raised $8865 in just one month, surpassing the $5000 goal.
Kaleb loves watching live hockey and his family were also given tickets to NHL games while he was receiving treatment in Vancouver.
He attended three games, including the bronze medal game for the IIHF World Juniors, and got to meet the Vancouver Canucks prior to their clash against the Edmonton Oilers on January 16.
“We had ice level tickets so we were right behind the goalie net,” said Kelsey.
“When we got in they pulled him into the fan club area and he got to high five all the Canucks before they went on the ice that night. He was super excited about that.”
On Friday, local hockey fans can show their support for Kaleb at the Fernie Ghostriders vs. Kimberley Dynamiters game at Fernie Memorial Arena.
There will be a bake table and raffle, with all proceeds going towards the family’s medical and travel expenses.
Puck drop Friday is at 7:30 p.m.
If you can’t make the game but would still like to donate to Kaleb, visit Gofundme.com.