In September 2009 our family received the devastating news that our son Nathaniel, then 2 ½ years old, had been diagnosed with a form of cancer called neuroblastoma. A large tumour was found in his abdomen, and we learned that the cancer had metastasized throughout his body. We also learned that neuroblastoma is the third most common pediatric cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in children.
Before we had time to even fully process this terrible news, Nate was swept into the world of cancer treatment. Over the next twelve months, he underwent 7 rounds of intensive chemotherapy; surgery – during which it was necessary to remove one of his kidneys; high-dose chemotherapy with a stem-cell transplant; 12 rounds of radiation; and multiple rounds of immunotherapy, a treatment whose main side effect is extreme pain. In November 2010, when Nate’s treatment was nearing completion, a large tumour was discovered in Nate’s brain. The neuroblastoma had relapsed, and he required emergency surgery to remove the tumour. This was followed by 17 more rounds of radiation, more chemotherapy, and immunotherapy treatments at a hospital in New York. And his treatment is ongoing to this day.
Nate has always loved trains. Throughout the hundreds of days and nights of treatment his love of trains was one of the things that brought him the most comfort. From videos, books, and the Internet, Nate developed a particular love for a very specific vintage steam engine – the Southern Pacific 4449 Daylight, known affectionately as the “49”. Nate would often ask anyone who came into his hospital room, “Do you know the 4449 is the most beautiful steam locomotive ever built?”. There are a large number of nurses, doctors, staff and volunteers at our hospital who now know about the 4449, all because of Nate.
When the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada granted Nate his wish, he didn’t even need to think about what that would be – he wanted to see the 4449. Thanks to the Foundation, and the wonderful team of volunteers in Oregon, this summer we flew to Portland and Nate realized his dream – he rode in the cab of the 4449, pulled the whistle, met the crew and the legendary Mr. Doyle McCormack, and he was named her honorary Engineer. We also rode the train for an entire day through Oregon and Washington, where we were all treated as very special guests by her crew.
Nate’s joy in seeing his engine for the first time will forever be one of the happiest moments of all of our lives. The love emanating between Nate and his engine was beautiful, and had the power to strip away many layers of the hurt, pain, and anger of the last two years. It was pure magic.
We will always be grateful to the Children’s Wish Foundation for granting Nate his Wish. We’re also incredibly thankful to the Friends of the 4449 and all of the volunteers who keep her beautiful and running. They treated Nate with such care and honour and gave all of us a gift that we will hold in our hearts forever.
— Antonia Palmer