Watching Kayden Dussault dance his heart out is exhilarating. His energy and vitality have a way of lifting everyone’s spirits. Kayden knows that difficult days can be made better when you dance, and as a cancer patient at CHEO, Kayden knows all too well about difficult days.
At just eight years old, Kayden was experiencing painful headaches that were hard to explain. His family doctor and staff at CHEO were baffled. A physician in residency at CHEO noticed some abnormalities on his left side and went the extra mile with detailed examinations and testing. When MRI results showed a mass in his brain, the prognosis was a germ cell tumour.
While deeply concerning, the family was told that germ cell tumours often aren’t cancerous. Still, emergency surgery was performed and Kayden’s mom Kelly recalls being hopeful, “we were told that most of the time these tumours are benign. This time it was not.” A week after Kayden’s surgery, August 31 of 2021, the cancer diagnosis was given to the stunned family and the team at CHEO went to work. Kelly says, “a whole team surrounds you.”
These medical professionals did more than begin to map out the treatment plan that would tackle Kayden’s tumour, they helped the family face the most difficult conversation they would ever have. Kelly and Kayden’s dad Mathieu had little time to adjust to a port being inserted in their son’s chest and chemotherapy starting a week later. Still, they had to decide what to say to Kayden. Kelly remembers this overwhelming time as one of the hardest, “there was no time to process, we were too scared to tell him, we didn’t know how to tell an eight-year-old child that he has cancer. Kayden’s great granddad, his best friend, had died of cancer. We knew that when Kayden heard ‘cancer’ all he really heard was ‘death’.” Kayden’s doctors not only told him, but they also showed him; what would happen, what treatment would look like, and they answered all the questions.
The support of CHEO staff could partly explain why Kayden was able to face his admissions to CHEO during chemo, but only his brave spirit explains how on the days he started a chemo cycle he would do a dance for doctors, nurses and everyone around. Kelly says that seeing Kayden dancing kept her going. His old soul carrying them both.
Those were Kayden’s good days, but there were hard days too. Day three into a treatment cycle would see Kayden in what his family came to call, “his chemo funk.” They struggled seeing their energetic boy lying in a hospital bed with no energy. Then there were the unexpected changes to plans. What was thought to be an inoperable tumour to be treated by chemo only, was then deemed operable, so off the family went to SickKids. When the nine-hour brain surgery in Toronto successfully removed 90% of the mass, but more tumour was found two months later, the family was on the road again – this time to Boston for proton therapy, a more targeted form of radiation. These treatments were necessary, but travel of this kind is stressful, isolating and costly. Leaving Kayden’s siblings behind, Kelly and Matthew were away from their children, Kayden’s grandparents and other support network. A year after Kayden’s diagnosis, he was back at CHEO for an MRI that would show him to be cancer free.
CHEO’s support is still there and always will be. As Kelly says, they are “a whole secondary family.” And in his unique style, Kayden is now supporting CHEO. As a member of this year’s McDonald’s Dream Team at the 2023 CN Cycle for CHEO, he is helping to raise money for oncology care and research. That is part of who Kayden is. When he was in treatment away from home, he became a big brother to younger oncology patients. He has an online persona that he uses to educate kids and parents on cancer. His mom is so proud, “he explains his entire story to help kids who have had worse cancers and he thrives on it.”
Kayden is teaching us all how to thrive, and when you are facing a challenge, talk it out and then dance it out!