One day at a time: George’s cancer journey

 “I remember all of it, but it’s still a blur,” says Kathy Konstantinidis.  Time seemed to stand still for her and her husband Andre after a lump was discovered in their nine-month-old son George’s abdomen. “Our doctor sent us directly to the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH), where we were seen immediately in the Emergency Department,” she says. “Everything was very fast-paced once we got there. He had X-rays done, blood work, a CT scan. Then they told us they found a mass on his kidney.  It was all just too much information to take in.”

What followed seemed like a whirlwind of discussions and meetings with specialists. They were told that Dr. Sherif Emil, pediatric thoracic and general surgeon, would have to remove George’s  kidney and the mass they had uncovered.. Doctors explained that once the mass was removed, they could identify what kind of tumour it was and decide on treatment. A few days later, the pathology report confirmed that George was suffering from a rare kidney cancer called Wilm’s tumour.

Deciding on treatment

“We went through quite a ride those first few weeks,” says Kathy. “We soon met with Dr. David Mitchell, head of Hematology-Oncology to discuss potential treatment options.”

“Dr. Mitchell was extremely helpful and presented us with a lot of documentation and references to read up on. We went over all of the options: we could either treat George with chemotherapy, or follow a different treatment protocol. We had two weeks to decide.”

While Kathy says the decision was difficult to make, the couple opted for five months of chemotherapy to treat their son. What followed were many months in hospital, with ups and downs, but Kathy says the one thing that kept them going was their son’s resilience.

“Even though he was in hospital, George kept developing and did really well. He started to roll over in his bed, and even removed his feeding tube on his own at one point!” she laughs.

Still, there were difficult moments, and Kathy says what helped the most was being surrounded by staff members who went above and beyond to make them feel supported. “I’ll never forget George’s nurse, Tracy,” she says. “She was the first person we spoke to after we found out about the diagnosis, and she was so warm and comforting and tried to make us smile. It meant the world to us. When you’re going through something like this, you just want someone to hug you and tell you it’s going to be okay. All the social workers, doctors, and nurses, helped make us feel that way.”

Looking ahead

George is now three and a half and a proud older brother to Billy, who Kathy says is his little twin. George still comes to the Children’s every four months for follow-ups and will continue to be followed regularly until he is five years post-treatment. “We look forward to him passing the five year mark of being cancer-free,” says Kathy. “Until then, we just live day to day and focus on paying it forward.”

Ever since their son’s illness, the Anastassopoulos family has made a point to give back in any way they can. For the past two years, Kathy’s husband Andre has participated in the CIBC 401 Bike Challenge, benefitting Sarah’s Fund of the Cedars Cancer Foundation to help fulfill the long-term needs of the Hematology/Oncology Division of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. The entire family also participates in a toy drive every holiday season, by donating brand new toys and games to be distributed to patients through the hospital's Child Life department.  “I know what it felt like to see my child smile when he received a gift when he was in hospital,” says Kathy. “It feels so good. This is just our way of helping out.”