Seven-year-old Wills is suffering from a rare form of kidney cancer Submitted photo

B.C. boy battles rare cancer as community rallies

A parent’s worst nightmare: Community support building for seven-year-old Okanagan cancer victim

It’s a nightmare no child should ever have to suffer, but support is pouring in for a Penticton boy battling cancer.

Until recently, seven-year-old Wills Hodgkinson was a happy, athletic and active child, participating in soccer, hockey and swimming. Now he’s in a hospital bed in Vancouver, preparing for an operation to remove a tumour attached to his kidney.

“I don’t know if he understands the full thing in his head, but he’s scared and he’s resigned to the situation,” said his dad Tim Hodgkinson. Tim, along with Wills’ mother Neely Brimer and two-year-old sister Scarlett, are staying in Vancouver to be at Wills’ side.

“He knows he’s got to have the surgery, and we’ve got to move forward to make him better. He just wants to be home with his mates playing football (soccer). All our energies are supporting him.”

It’s a big mass and it’s probably been in there since he was in the womb. Sitting there like a ticking time bomb.

Tim said that, according to doctors, the tumour has probably been growing since Wills was in the womb, but the symptoms came on quickly last month.

It started with a tummy ache and throwing up on a Saturday night.

“I took him off school on Monday, and on the Monday night he was crying out in pain,” Tim said. Expecting just a childhood ailment, Hodgkinson took his son to the emergency ward at Penticton Regional Hospital.

“An hour went by, and then another, and we’re still there,” said Hodgkinson. “The doctor came back and said ‘Look, I’ve got to talk to you.”

Wills has a Wilm’s tumour, a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children. The usual treatment is to remove both the tumour and affected kidney, and the outlook for most children is good.

But when doctors at the Teck Acute Care Centre, part of B.C. Children’s Hospital, took Wills into surgery they found problems.

“When they got in there, they found the tumour had fused itself to his pancreas, his spleen and the top part of his colon,” said Tim. “So they sewed him back up again because it was too risky at that point.

Wills is going through six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments now, in hopes of shrinking the tumour enough that it peels itself away from the other organs.

When the medical team operates again, it’s going to be very traumatic for the little boy’s body.

“He’s very frail at the moment. We are looking at is six weeks of chemo, which will crush his defences and then go in, take a kidney out, a tumour that the body thinks is another organ, because it’s been in there so long and it’s so big,” Tim said. Wills might also lose his pancreas and spleen, even then.

The nightmare doesn’t end there. Doctors also discovered eight tumours on Wills’ lungs. Tim said they won’t be able to tell if those are treatable until the chemotherapy begins to take effect.

“There are so many big questions at the moment. It’s all just a blur, it’s so overwhelming,” said Tim. “Despite it all, you have to pull through. Wills is the most important thing here.”

Wills’ two-year-old sister Scarlett has proven to be a bright spot. Tim said their decision to keep the family together at Wills’ side was a good one. Scarlett is too young to understand what is going on, so she is having a good time running around with the nurses and enjoying the hospital playrooms.

“Every morning she comes in to Wills and she was kissing his hand and asking ‘are you happy today Wills?’” said Tim. “She’s two, she doesn’t understand the extent of it but she knows Wills is sick and she loves her brother very much.”

Growing up with a British father, Wills is naturally a major football fan, and he’s been visited by members of the Vancouver Whitecaps, along with their mascot Spike. He’s also received a letter from Gary Cahill, captain of his favourite team, the Chelsea Football Club and also the current captain of the England team.

“The whole team sent him a card too, with all their signatures,” said Tim, adding that Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit also sent Wills a video.

“We’re completely overwhelmed by the generosity of people’s thoughts and messages. It’s truly humbling. Nobody ever wants to find themselves in this situation, but the support people are giving us is humbling,” said Tim

Back at home in the Okanagan, community support is pouring in for the family via a fundraiser organized by Margie Hibbard and Tricia Hernes.

There are now over 800 people in a support group set up on Facebook, Hibbard said.

Since announcing the fundraiser, Hibbard said they’ve learned there is another student at Wills’ school, Holy Cross Elementary, that has cancer.

“We are donating a portion of the bake sale to that student as well. Most of the bake sale is going to come from Holy Cross volunteers,” said Hibbard.

Besides the bake sale, the fundraiser on March 11 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the Adidas Soccerplex will include a silent auction, bake sale, glitter tattoos, bouncy castle, soccer skills competition, and crafts for the kids. It’s also a chance to send messages of love and encouragement to Wills, via a scrapbook, photos and videos provided by Moments Under Frame.

There is also a GoFundMe page set up at 7 Yr Old Wills Set To Fight Cancer.

Hibbard said the outpouring of messages of support and items for the fundraiser has been amazing.

“I think people can really empathize with the stress, the fear, the loss of control that is going on there. It’s such a young child and he will have such a battle,” said Hibbard. “It’s just a testament to how much people want to see good in the world.”

Hibbard added they are still accepting silent auction items and bake sale goodies are needed. Anyone who is able to donate items can drop them off at Time Flies.

Organizers Hernes and Hibbard can be reached through the event page on Facebook or via email at

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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Wills prepares himself for school at Holy Cross Elementary. Submitted photo

Wills plays soccer with the Penticton Pinnacles Excelsior program. Submitted photo.

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