It was just a bump on his hand, or so they thought. Westley probably got it from roughhousing around with his brother. But the bump wasn’t going away. So, Kelly took her son to the doctor thinking it was possibly a broken bone. The doctor said it was just a cyst because when a child is only six years old, what else could it be? Westley’s doctor scheduled an appointment to see a hand specialist and get a recommendation on if it should be removed. They had to wait three months to see this specialist, and in that time, the bump doubled in size.
Surgery was scheduled to remove the bump on a Friday. The surgeon had a feeling as soon as he saw the material in the boy’s hand that it must be immediately sent to pathology. He sent a frozen section to the lab while working on Westley’s hand. The pathologist responded right away, calling the surgeon to tell him that it was bad, and to remove as much of the tissue as he could. The surgeon had kids of his own, and felt compassion for the parents, so he invested himself in the young patient’s care. He removed everything he could see by the naked eye. Fortunately, the bump was on Wesley’s left hand, and since he’s right-handed, the surgery left him less impaired. He then needed to break the news to Kelly and Nate that their son had some kind of malignant tumor in the “small blue round tumor of childhood” category.
This news is always hard to tell parents, yet the surgeon did it with grace. He advised them not to look up the medical condition online over the weekend if they could resist. Kelly and Nate were sent home with Westley to await an appointment with new doctors from the UW Madison children’s hospital who would have more answers on this condition. Waiting was excruciating. What would the doctors say and what would the tests determine? The answer came on April Fool’s Day, 2015. Kelly could only wish it was a bad joke, but the test showed a rare cancerous tissue. It is called “ARMS” (alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma) which is a cancer that affects less than 250 people a year in the United States.
Kelly’s sweet, little boy had an aggressive form of cancer? This news couldn’t be worse. How could this happen? Immediately, Kelly’s mind flew to the death of her father, who died at 38 from brain cancer. She felt guilty, as if this could somehow be her fault because of genetics. However, no one knows exactly how cancer is developed in some and not others. Kelly needed to let go of guilt, yet her heart was breaking.
The next step was to tell Westley that he had cancer. How does any parent do that? Image the anguish in telling your first-grader he has cancer! Nathan, Kelly’s husband, was brave in breaking the terrifying news to their son. Kelly was impressed with how her husband communicated this bad news. Nathan did it with compassion and wisdom. He told Westley that the doctors removed “crazy cells” from his hand, but that there may be more. He calmly told his boy that the cells were cancerous, which could make him very sick, but the doctors were going to treat him until they made sure all those crazy cells were gone. That must have been the hardest conversation Nathan ever had with his son, yet he did it with such love and clarity. When he heard about his health condition, Westley was brave and handled the news well.
Kelly and Nathan are deeply committed Christians. They believed God could work through the medical system for healing, along with prayers, and the support of friends and family. Kelly prayed. Nathan prayed. They got everyone they could to pray.
They had to move ahead with radical, harsh treatments starting with chemotherapy. There was no other choice for them. When you have a child diagnosed with cancer, parents are not allowed to choose alternative medicinal measures. Kelly and Nathan had to trust the traditional medical system for ridding their son of cancer, but they also trusted God would work through prayer.
Tests were conducted to see how much of this cancer was in Westley’s body. He had surgical removal of lymph nodes, and many scans that involve radiation, which is potentially dangerous. These scans can detect cancer even in soft tissue, which is a very difficult thing to do. Remarkably, doctors couldn’t find cancer anywhere else in Westley’s body! Nevertheless, because ARMS cancer is so rare, aggressive, and hard to detect, it was still necessary to treat Westley as if cancer was present in his body. They had to ensure any cells containing cancer would be eliminated.
Then the nightmare began: 40-weeks of treatment conducted at the UW Children’s Hospital on Fridays. This allowed Westley to recover over weekends so he could still attend school on following Mondays. He often spent his recovery periods throwing up. Nothing stayed down much. Once, to Kelly’s horror, Westley began vomiting up blood. To watch her little boy suffer like that tore Kelly up inside. Such anguish tormented her emotions, but she never stopped praying, believing that God would help Westley endure. Somehow he came through it.
Taking care of her boy was challenging, to say the least. Kelly had to set a timer to provide sips of water every few minutes, making sure Westley didn’t dehydrate. He also lost his appetite. To get him to eat, Kelly prepared the foods that were hard to resist. He loves chili, so she made that often. She created smoothies packed full of fruits and vegetables, and tried to get lots of protein in his diet.
His siblings, older brother Noah, younger brother, Logan and sister, Abby, all wondered why their brother was sick. Noah, being the oldest, worried a lot. All of them tried to live as normally as possible. Westley continued in elementary school where all the students and staff helped to support him during this time. His first-grade teacher, also a Christian, set up a what she called the “Sanitation Station” for all the kids to wash up after every recess and meal. It was very important that Westley had a clean environment to prevent other illnesses. Everyone cooperated.
Westley’s teacher loved him so much that when he finished the first-grade, she moved up as his second grade teacher! She wanted him to have consistency since she knew his needs within the classroom environment. Kelly’s family saw these things as blessings along the way to encourage them during this trial.
Looking back before the disease invaded Westley’s body, Kelly sees how God was preparing them for this ordeal. There were signposts along the way. For example, when Westley was first diagnosed, Kelly happened to be reading the Book of Job. She landed on a verse that spoke to her: “Who makes the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; Who does great things, unfathomable, and wondrous works without number.” (Job 9:9-10.) Orion is Westley’s middle name.“I knew God was with us from the beginning,” Kelly said, confident that this verse, among other confirmations, was God promising their family that He’d get them through this to the healing point. Click To Tweet
When they just thought Westley’s bump was a cyst, a man who is gifted in the healing ministry attended her church. She received prayer for Westley’s hand that day, but was discouraged when the next day, the bump was noticeably bigger. In hindsight, she wonders if somehow that prayer simply concentrated all the cancer cells in that one spot since cancer was never located elsewhere in his body.
Two years before all of this happened, during her local church’s fasting time, her husband had a dream. As he was trying to figure it out, he heard Kelly speak out while sleeping, “That is the 5th gift, and it’s for Westley.” Nate woke up and prayed. As he was praying for Westley, he felt like passing out. He felt like there was a battle over his little boy. The next day he talked with Kelly and a pastor to try to figure out what this all meant. What is the 5th gift spoken of in the Bible? They came to a scripture in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10, where Paul lists the spiritual gifts. The 5th one listed is the gift of miracles! They thought perhaps the gift of miracles would be given to Westley when he was older. So, they began to pray that promise over Westley before the cancer was diagnosed.
One year later, also during a time of fasting, Kelly had a dream of a huge tornado, and her family sought shelter. They called on the name of Jesus and worshipped during the storm. Kelly felt as if this was God’s way of showing her that during the whole journey of this “tornado storm of cancer,” that He was with them. She never doubted that God was with them through the storm.
During the chemo process, Kelly reflected on Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She noted that in context, just before this great promise, the people were in slavery! This helped her family deal with the process of watching Westley endure chemotherapy. It was like slavery, but there was hope for freedom to come.
Today, chemotherapy treatments are ended. Every three months since the chemo, Westley has to undergo scans for two years to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. After the two years, he’ll need scanning every six months.
Kelly recalled one time during a PET scan that Westley underwent where he had to lie still for 45 minutes. He couldn’t move during this scan. He wasn’t even allowed to talk. So, Kelly and Nate kept talking to him to help the time pass. They kept their eyes on the clock as the scan continued. But the clock’s hands didn’t move—it was broken at 10:10 a.m. and 43 seconds.
They sensed that they should look into the Bible, and turned to the 43rd book; it was the Book of John. They read John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” They believed this was the Holy Spirit leading them to this verse to believe for their son’s healing.
As of December 2016, Westley’s nine-month post-treatment scans show NO signs of cancer. “Our doctor was so thorough, and double checked some areas that were of concern for us.” Kelly confirmed with the radiologist that there is now no need for concern, and Westley is healthy. “We are so thankful. Praise God!” Kelly said.
Westley now lives cancer-free with many more promises from God to look forward to in the future. He learned a lot during this faith walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Suffering means something to God, as He uses all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). So, Westley grew up a lot during this trial with cancer. “He started out as a glass half empty kid,” Kelly reflected. “But cancer changed that right away—now he’s a glass half-full kid!”