Riel set to return home to family in Kamloops

·3 min read

A Kamloops toddler who has battled a rare form of brain cancer for nearly two years will return home to his family this month after an MRI scan showed no signs of a tumour.

Two-year-old Riel Antoine completed his second set of chemotherapy treatments at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver in January and, with his blood cell levels returning to normal, will be coming home with father Frank Antoine on March 28.

The news has mother Bonnie Lepine Antoine relieved and hopeful the tumour won’t grow back. Riel will have MRIs every three months to monitor for any signs.

“When you’re in the cancer world, it’s a journey and I think the journey doesn’t stop,” Lepine Antoine said. “I think it’s important to celebrate those little victories because we don’t know what tomorrow brings, we don’t know if his scan in April’s going to be clear and we don’t know five months, six months down the road.”

Riel received the maximum amount of the chemotherapy permitted for his age. If the cancer returns, the only other option for treatment will be radiation, Lepine Antoine said, noting her son won’t be eligible for that until he is five years old.

Meanwhile, there are other concerns as chemotherapy left Riel immunocompromised, making him susceptible to other illnesses — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — and he needs to be re-vaccinated with his childhood inoculations. There will also many appointments ahead for the eyesight and hearing loss Riel sustained during treatment, as well as followup visits with BC Children’s, Lepine Antoine told KTW.

“Our child is never going to be the same,” she said. “Even though he’s alive, we’re still mourning in a different way. We’re mourning a life he could have had and we have to adapt.”

The mother of three said she appreciates each day, manages the situation as it comes and is looking forward to having her family together again.

Through most of 2020, the family of five commuted to the Lower Mainland together for Riel’s appointments, before splitting up the household last September, when Riel’s last set of chemotherapy began. Lepine Antoine, who works as a teacher, stayed in Kamloops with their two older children, Sequioa, eight, and Maya, six, as the school year started.

Frank — who has been out of work due to COVID-19 travel restrictions straining his Indigenous tourism business — took Riel to Victoria, where they have family, and commuted to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver for needed treatments.

“Our family’s been a bit dysfunctional in the sense of [being] away from each other,” Lepine Antoine said. “My [older] kids haven’t seen their dad too much. Maybe five times in two years.”

Riel underwent his first bout of intravenous chemotherapy in August 2019 following a surgery that removed most, but not all, of a brain tumour discovered in the newborn. The chemotherapy kept Riel and his parents confined to a room at BC Children’s Hospital for nearly a year, until the spring of 2020.

That treatment shrunk the remaining mass, but it was still cancerous, requiring the second batch between last fall and this past January. Following his first treatment, Riel underwent a stem cell transplant last March — a procedure Lepine Antoine said her son almost didn’t survive. In all, her son has endured two sets of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, three brain surgeries and 73 blood transfusions in the first two years of his life.

Lepine Antoine said she is thankful to everyone who prayed for Riel and made financial donations to help the family through trying times. She is asking people to donate blood, as well as funds, to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and Ronald McDonald House.


Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week