Initially, Will Nichols’ stomachache seemed like an ordinary childhood complaint. After all, it was Halloween night 2009, and he had consumed plenty of candy after trick-or-treating through his Mountain Brook neighborhood. To be safe, his parents, Tony and Rosemary, took Will to the emergency room, where doctors believed he was okay.
The next day, Tony and Rosemary went ahead with a scheduled business trip. Soon after their plane landed, Rosemary got a call that Will had been taken back to the ER. She then got another call she never saw coming. “The nurse called and said they found masses on his kidneys and diagnosed it as Wilms’ tumor,” she said. “We, of course, rushed to get back to Birmingham.”
His doctors at Children’s of Alabama quickly put a plan together to fight the disease. “As a parent, you want to protect your child from everything,” Rosemary said. “Then you hear the words ‘your child has cancer’ and you realize that you can’t. It’s scary. That’s when Children’s came to our rescue. Dr. Jeffrey Lebensburger looked at us and said, ‘It’s time to beat this. Here’s how we’re going to take care of Will.’”
The doctors’ quick action and positive words helped ease the family’s worry from the very beginning. “The physicians helped comfort us and gave us a lot of hope,” Tony said. “Initially, you’re in so much shock. They helped us move beyond that and get focused on beating the disease.”
Almost immediately, Will started chemotherapy. Soon after, doctors removed Will’s right kidney and part of his left kidney. Afterwards, Will continued with treatment, but a scan later revealed the cancer spread to his lungs. “That was almost scarier than the original diagnosis,” Rosemary said. “We thought we were so close. Our hearts just fell to the floor with that news.”
Doctors got more aggressive with treatment and added radiation with some improvement. Some lesions remained in Will’s lungs at the end of treatment but a biopsy determined that it was not likely to be cancerous, according to Christina Bemrich-Stolz, M.D. “That lesion continues to be monitored but has not changed in the five years since he completed treatment,” she said.
Today, Will is thriving, playing soccer and taking drum lessons. He celebrated his 10th birthday in February 2016. “We don’t know if he will ever require a kidney transplant, but right now we check in with his doctors once a year and as long as he’s okay, we just keep going,” Rosemary said.
While the Nichols obviously hope that Will continues to thrive and never has to undergo treatment again, they couldn't be more grateful for the care he—and the whole family—received during his stay at Children’s. “We are so thankful for the entire team at Children’s,” Tony said. “It’s a special place. Obviously nobody wants to be in the hospital, but when you’re there, the care team gets you through it. It’s obvious how much they care for people. They made a difference in Will’s life and ours.”