When disease strikes, your whole world comes to a stop. Through the doubts and fears, through the ups and downs, the caring, compassionate teams of Sainte-Justine were there to keep me going. And their expertise is what saved my eldest son's life.

Nico is the oldest of my three boys. He's a wonderful big brother and a son who fills us with pride. He is bursting with energy and always has a smile on his face. And least he did until his whole world turned upside down in November 2019.

It all started with a series of intense headaches. Then came the nausea and vomiting. Our pediatrician couldn't find anything, but as his symptoms got worse, my instinct told me something was seriously wrong. By November 18, it was too much. This mama bear needed answers. So off we headed straight to Sainte-Justine.

From that point on, everything snowballed. An MRI showed Nicolas had hydrocephalus, what is commonly referred to as "water on the brain." That's when pediatric neurosurgeon Alexander Weil told my 11-year-old that he would have to undergo emergency surgery that very day, or it might be too late. Time stood still for me, although my mind was racing like crazy. Fortunately, the procedure, as delicate as it was, went well. My heart started beating again.

Chu Sainte Justine Nicolas Kobiliris Post Operation Joueurs Canadiens
Nicolas and his dad, Stamatis, get a special visit from the Habs!
Chu Sainte Justine Nicolas Kobiliris Post Operation
Nicolas after his operation at Sainte-Justine.
Nicolas Kobiliris 4
Nicolas at Sainte-Justine.

A few weeks later, we were dealt yet another blow. The results of a biopsy showed Nico had a malignant germinoma, a rare form of brain tumour.

It was the worst possible news Dr. Weil could give us, but he did it in such a sympathetic, reassuring way. He calmed the storm that was brewing inside of me. He's an extraordinary person — an angel who came into our lives to save Nico.

He spoke with such confidence. His warmth and compassion were my rock over the holidays, as we waited for Nico's chemo to start. When I was racked by doubt and worry, his words would come back to me and give me hope: "If your child has to come down with cancer, this is the one you want. It's something we can fight and beat. Together. He's got a whole team behind him."

The past year is one that will stay with me forever. Not only was there Nico's cancer to deal with, but it all happened in the midst of the pandemic. We had so many things to juggle: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, taking him out of school, going into strict lockdown…

But today, when I see how well he has triumphed over adversity, I could not be prouder. I owe such a huge debt of gratitude to these incredible people who have changed my family's life forever. There aren't any words to describe the awe and admiration I have for them.

Chu Sainte Justine Nicolas Tumeur Germinome Malin Famille
© Geneviève Giguère
Chu Sainte Justine Nicolas Tumeur Germinome Malin Maman Fils
Chu Sainte Justine Nicolas Tumeur Germinome Malin Trois Freres
Chu Sainte Justine Nicolas Tumeur Germinome Malin Seul

Despite everything we've been through, I know how lucky we are to have done it at Sainte-Justine, backed by teams who are as talented and hard-working as they are kind, and who give the best of themselves every day for kids. It's no wonder the reputation of these brilliant professionals is known and respected the world over.

Chu Sainte Justine Nicolas Kobiliris Marie Helene Colpron Dr Perreault
Nicolas with his pivot nurse, Marie-Hélène Colpron, and pediatric neuro-oncologist Sébastien Perreault.

Thank you, Dr. Weil, for tending to my son as if he were your own. You were the light when everything around us was dark. And to you, Dr. Sébastien Perreault, who made sure Nicolas got the very best care, we are also very grateful. Your expertise is matched only by your sense of humanity. To Marie-Hélène Colpron, our amazing pivot nurse with a heart of gold, I can still feel your empathy and your compassion to this day. Thank you. To our social worker, Andrea Saragosti, thank you for listening with such caring and sensitivity. You made things a lot smoother and easier for us to navigate. And to all the other caregivers at Sainte-Justine, our heartfelt thanks to all of you for putting children front and centre.

I dedicate the year ahead to your strength, your humanity and your larger-than-life love of children. Every month, my husband and I donate to the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation in your honour. We know better than anyone else all the good these funds can do. We are pleased and proud to do our part so you can keep providing the best possible care to children and do it with skill and devotion.

And to my warrior, Nico, may 2021 be as awesome as you are.

Linda Garhy, Nicolas's mom

N.B. The remarks expressed in this article reflect the opinion solely of the author and should not be considered as representative of the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation.