Sweet 16 birthday bittersweet for West Quebec family with two kids with cancer
Turning 16 is a milestone for any young person. It's the stuff movies are made of.
For one young Western Quebec teenager, though, his 16th birthday is more of a miracle. Jacob Randell is celebrating each day as the gift it is.
“Make it hard, just make it possible,” reads Jacob Randell, “and through pain I’ll not complain. My spirit is unconquerable.”
There's a reason Jacob’s Grade 6 teacher gave him this poem. It's called "Unstoppable" by Anthony Robles and this 16-year-old just about is.
“With all friends I have behind me,” he says, “and my family, it's hard not to be positive.”
There are takeaways for all of us in his story, in the Randell family’s story of how to stay positive in the face of overwhelming pain and how to turn a simple birthday party into a triumph of spirit.
“It wasn’t just about Jacob turning 16,” says his mother Liliane Hajjar, “It was about celebrating life, celebrating our family and friends and three hundred people showed up to sing Happy Birthday. It's been such a hard few years,” she says, “and seeing him in that hospital bed last year when we were preparing to say goodbye to him; I never thought this day would come.”
Jacob was just 5 years old when he was diagnosed with a rare aggressive brain cancer called “atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumour” or AT/RT, which tragically also turned out to be hereditary. After Jacob’s diagnosis, the entire family underwent genetic testing. Liam, who is now 10, was negative but younger sister Sophia, now 6, tested positive and was monitored since birth with regular MRI’s and ultrasounds. At 4-year-years-old, she was diagnosed with exactly the same brain cancer as Jacob.
At one point last year, the siblings were side by side in hospital beds in CHEO, with Jacob fighting septic shock.
“My heart stopped four times,” he says, “to the point my doctor said I had 12 hours (to live).”
At the same time, Sophia was relapsing. That was her first relapse; her cancer is back again. Now, they're both trying new treatments.
“The same day we found out about Sophia’s relapse,” Liliane says, “we found out Jacob's tumors, all of them, either shrunk or are gone. It's a miracle, a miracle.”
And so, they take those miracles, the birthdays, the friends, the laughter and hold on.
“Right now, we're going to hope for the best,” says Liliane.
“I don't care what's probable,” Jacob continues to read, “Through blood, sweat and tears I am unstoppable.”