Local family battles pediatric cancer
A simple observation about their then-4-year-old son Aiden led to a diagnosis that surprised Cara and Brian Welling, and Aiden's pediatrician.
"There was one night when I was putting him to bed, and I tapped on his tummy and I noticed how hard it was," Cara Welling said.
She said she called her pediatrician's office, who directed her to call after the weekend if she still was concerned.
Watching Aiden play that weekend almost made her reconsider.
"He looked so normal that I kind of had second thoughts," Mrs. Welling said.
But Mr. Welling had a light day at work that Monday, so he took Aiden to see his doctor.
Thinking it might be a bowel obstruction, the doctor ordered an MRI, which showed something shocking.
"He had a tumor the size of a cantaloupe," Mrs. Welling said.
On Aug. 20 last year, Aiden, now 5, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, or cancer of the nervous system. The tumor was growing on an adrenal gland.
The Wellings said they count themselves lucky that the diagnosis was made when it was, that they noticed the lump in Aiden's stomach, that they took him to the doctor and that an MRI was ordered when there were no clear symptoms of a serious problem.
"Most kids don't get diagnosed until it has spread and they start having pain," Mrs. Welling said.
For the Welling family, which includes Aiden and his 7-year-old brother, Owen, the last year has brought a whirlwind of treatments: six rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, a stem-cell transplant and surgery to remove the tumor.
"We spent over 100 days in the hospital in the last year," Mr. Welling said.
"Sixty percent of kids relapse, so they call it 'the kitchen sink treatment.' They throw everything at it," she added.
In February, the Wellings were told the cancer was no longer detectible in Aiden's system, but they believe it's still lurking on a cellular level, Mrs. Welling said.
He'll wrap up his treatments at the end of this year, and the Wellings now are focusing on raising awareness of pediatric cancer, in hopes of raising funds for research for the disease.
"We just realized how little funding there is," Mrs. Welling said, adding that only about 4 percent of cancer-research funding goes directly to pediatric cancer.
Mrs. Welling acknowledges that before Aiden's diagnosis, she was had the same mindset asmany parents.
"No one wants to talk about it. I thought it was so rare, and I thought it would never happen to me," she said. "We learn of kids all the time in our area, but no one talks about it."
Donning "Aiden's Army" T-shirts and supported by friends and family, the Wellings will walk in this year's CureSearch Walk for Children's Cancer, and they're encouraging others to do the same.
The walk begins at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and will be followed at 7:15 by a family night at the zoo.
By speaking about Aiden's illness, the Wellings said they hope people will become more aware of pediatric cancer and will be compelled to support the search for a cure.
"In October, everything is pink" for breast cancer awareness, Mrs. Welling said.
"Forty thousand people walked in the Race for the Cure last year; 400 walked in the (CureSearch) walk."
"Very few people know that September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month," Mr. Welling added.
With the support of their church, the Westerville Community United Church of Christ, the family is selling T-shirts, wristbands and car decals to raise money.
They hosted a wine-tasting earlier this year to raise money, and as they get through Aiden's treatment, they said they hope to do more.
"We want the research," Mrs. Welling said. "We want them to find cures. We know (Aiden's cancer) could come back, and we want something better than we have now."
More information on the CureSearch Walk is online at CureSearchWalk.org/Columbus.