Monica Lamb-Yorski photo Jenn Rempel with her sons Caleb, 3, (left) and Tristan, 20 months. Tristan is recovering from cancer. He had a brain tumor removed in April and recently received a cancer-free diagnosis.

Big Lake toddler recovering after cancer-free diagnosis

‘It’s been lifechanging but in a good way’

It’s been a crazy ride said a Big Lake woman whose 20-month-old son is now cancer free after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in April and had a tumor removed.

“Tristan’s most recent MRI showed he is cancer free,” Jenn Rempel told the Tribune as Tristan sat inquisitively in her lap, with his brother Caleb, 3, sitting beside them. “It’s all gone and he has surpassed all of the doctors’ expectation for his recovery.”

If all the cancer had not been removed, it was guaranteed to come back, she added.

“His was more aggressive. He had stage two.”

Developmentally Tristan is at a 10-month stage with walking and talking, but otherwise he is doing normal toddler things for being 20 months.

Five months ago on April 24, Tristan was rushed to Cariboo Memorial Hospital after Jenn became alarmed because he was vomiting and became lethargic.

From there they were medivaced to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver where doctors performed surgery to remove a tumor caused by ependymoma, a tumor that can form in the brain or spinal cord.

Tristan’s was in the back of his head between the cerebellum and the brain stem.

“We spent four weeks in Children’s, six weeks in Sunny Hill Rehab Centre and another six weeks in Seattle for radiation,” Jenn explained. “We came home right after the radiation was done.”

She said they could not have done it with the amazing support they received.

“My husband Matt and I were talking and saying, ‘how do you thank thousands of people for the support? It’s been so overwhelming, we cannot thank everyone enough for it.”

Read more: Cariboo community rallying for family of toddler with cancer

For the next two years, Tristan will have an MRI every three months to make sure the tumor doesn’t grow back.

“They will get spaced out after that but he will be getting MRIs for the rest of his life.”

Throughout the ordeal, her toddler was amazing, patient and very determined, she added.

“Nothing really held him back from anything. He’s been super happy and chill about it all. He’s been a lot of fun actually,” she said, giggling. “It was scary at first — he couldn’t breathe on his own.”

Tristan is the youngest brother to Caleb, Liam, 6, and Jordin, 8.

The Rempels had moved to Big Lake from McBride not even a year before the cancer was discovered.

To other parents going through similar experiences, Jenn encouraged them to trust their instincts and don’t ever give up hope.

“That’s all I can say. When he first got sick, it was pure instinct that prompted me to take him to the hospital. Throughout the whole thing I realized if I lost hope it would feel awful. I cannot imagine.”

The whole experience taught the Rempels to see the good in all of it and they met amazing people.

“It’s been life changing but in a good way. One of the doctors in the ER in Williams Lake kind of scolded me when I said, ‘we are going to lose him aren’t we.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t say that,’ and that changed my entire perspective on everything.”

Staff were supportive everywhere they went, she added.

“They encouraged me to go home and sleep to make sure I was taken care of as well.”

She stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver and Seattle and said, while she was on her own for food, there are a lot of community groups that come in and cook big meals.

There are many programs available to help and she got weekly massages, even. She only saw the other children three times during the time she was away.

“I missed my mom,” Caleb said.

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