Two-and-a-half-year-old Ezra Gulliver has a special necklace.
It’s a small token that symbolizes something much bigger: Ezra’s bravery in the face of the unimaginable.
Each bead represents what Ezra has overcome: more than 90 days of hospitalization — 50 of them in isolation — more than 600 blood work tests, 25 plus transfusions, seven surgeries and much more.
One week before Ezra’s second birthday, the Millbrook boy was diagnosed with high-risk acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Ezra underwent three months of chemotherapy at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
As outlined in Ezra’s story, featured in Ontario Parents Advocating for Children with Cancer (OPACC)’s 2023 wall calendar, the Gulliver family was “divided in two,” with parents Marie and Lee taking turns looking after Ezra and their oldest son Eli, 4, during the tumultuous time, all while the two were expecting their third child.
OPACC is a registered charity that supports thousands of families of children with cancer. The organization releases a calendar to raise funds to help support families through various programs. The calendar features the photos and stories of 12 children.
Ezra — a lover of trains, construction toys and the outdoors — appears in the month of January. The photo, taken by Marie, was captured during Ezra’s treatment when he was able to return to the family farm homestead for a month.
In the photo, Ezra’s hair is gone, but his bright-eyed look and smile remains.
Like each story told in the calendar, Ezra’s cancer journey came with countless challenges.
“Our final block of chemo was 21 days and we were able to be home for four weeks to prepare for Ezra’s hematopoietic stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant),” Marie said.
“Our incredible team of oncologists all strongly recommended the stem cell transplant due to Ezra’s monosomy seven chromosomal abnormality, which is the specific genetic change in his leukemia cells.”
Doctors were able to locate an anonymous stem cell match for Ezra overseas. Ezra underwent a week of intense chemotherapy to allow for the new donor cells to be introduced — treatment that left him “very sick,” explained Marie. But on Sept. 21, Ezra received a successful transplant.
While the aftermath of the transplant was challenging — he fought viruses and faced a complete lack of appetite, later requiring the use of a feeding tube — Ezra is now recovering at home with his family and their newest addition Emerald, who was born two weeks after Ezra was discharged from the hospital on Oct. 28.
“(Ezra) is still in isolation as his immune system is still rebuilding and he is on potent immunosuppressant drugs to help control graft vs. host disease. During the first six months there are remaining native immune cells that attack the donor cells and cause a list of side effects,” Marie said.
“These symptoms are improving, but he does experience mild flare ups at times. If his condition continues to improve he should be able to ‘re-enter’ society 6 months after transplant which should be around the end of March this year.”
While Ezra’s path to recovery has been lined with roadblocks, Marie is appreciative of the outpouring of support her family has received.
“From the day at PRHC when we first received the news of Ezra’s diagnosis, we knew that our lives would forever be changed. We didn’t yet know what was to take place but we did know this would be a long and difficult journey for all of us. The first days were complete shock and disbelief.
Ezra has been very strong through it all but even with some of the best medical care in the world, he has suffered immensely and the sickness and pain from the treatments, surgeries, and chemotherapy have been difficult to watch and we can only imagine what it has been like for him,” Marie said.
“We have received tremendous support from family, friends, co-workers and the local community over these last seven months. When Ezra was first diagnosed my friend started up a GoFundMe page for us and raised almost $50,000,” she said, adding firefighters in Millbrook held a boot drive to raise funds, and several auctions, golf tournaments and draws were organized.
“Our lives were turned upside down and we are just starting to process what has happened this last year. Our journey is far from over. Ezra will be monitored very closely this next year for any relapses and at minimum he will keep going for checkups yearly for the rest of his life,” Marie said.
“We have only been in the Millbrook area for the past six years, but have been overwhelmed and forever changed by the support of the local community members. It is hard to put into words how special this support has been.”
Calendars can be purchased for $15 each or $10 each for more than three via e-transfer or PayPal to email@example.com.
Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner