Six-year-old Flin is often described as a go-with-the-flow, outgoing and empathetic jokester. So empathetic, in fact, that his mom, Jen, even recalled that Flin would put others before himself – even when battling a rare and aggressive Wilms’ tumor throughout 2021 and 2022.
Throughout his journey, Flin bravely faced his diagnosis head on. Often providing comic relief to his family and care team, all while receiving chemotherapy and fighting for his life.
Diagnosis with Wilms’ tumor
“I’ve always been a relaxed mom when it comes to medical stuff,” Jen said. One day, she brought him to the pediatrician because he was showing some symptoms of strep throat. Because she didn’t suspect that anything other than strep throat, she wasn’t overly concerned when Flin’s primary care provider thought he felt an enlarged spleen when examining Flin. While there was no immediate cause for alarm, they decided it would be best to check it out further and Flin was sent to Children’s Minnesota for an ultrasound.
After the ultrasound, Flin was immediately sent to the emergency department (ED), because they had found something – a tumor.
Treating a rare tumor
Dr. Lane Miller, staff physician, was the oncologist who walked the Helleen family through the diagnosis. “[He was] super caring and empathetic,” according to Jen. “[The] perfect person to give information.”
Dr. Miller advocated for Flin, and he had surgery the following day. And the surgery was a huge success! His care team was able to remove all of the stage 2 Wilms’ tumor.
After surgery, Flin stayed at Children’s Minnesota for a few days then went home for about a month before his chemotherapy and radiation treatment started. Dr. Miller connected Flin and his family to Dr. Julie Chu, staff physician, who was the primary oncologist for Flin’s treatment. While Flin’s post-surgery scans were clear, cells aren’t always picked up so Flin started on a 44-week long regimen of chemo and radiation.
“We just kind of grinded it out – we didn’t have another option,” Jen said. “While there were many highs and lows, Flin was a champ and made it as easy on us as it could have been. He had a can-do attitude, and struggled at points, but we were there so often it was like seeing friends and family.”
During this time, Flin had about 15 hospital admissions, and received radiation at Abbott Northwestern Hospital on six different occasions. Because this is a rare tumor, Flin was the first Children’s Minnesota patient to go through this specific clinical trial.
But during all of his stays, he had his brother, Sully, by his side. “Sully was 2 at the start of it, and he was really great. He didn’t know any different because we had covid the year before and then it just went into this,” said Jen. “I credit Sully with helping Flin thrive —he was the playmate. Sully was incredible for Flin to have, because it let him escape and just be a kid. Sully loves to be read to so Flin taught himself to read so he could read to Sully. It’s a bond we’ve never seen between siblings before.”
More than just a hospital
During his hospital admissions, Flin built relationships with all staff he interacted with – from clinical care staff to environmental services to The Dude from the in-house TV station, Star Studio. Not only did Flin build relationships, he also made an impression!
Jen recalls that Flin used to ride his trike around the 7th floor, pretending to race Mario Kart™. Many of the staff members played along, pretending to throw items at him like would happen in a real Mario Kart game. Everyone was great and it made Flin feel more comfortable.
“If he wasn’t biking the floor, everyone was looking for him.” Jen said. “He was recognized by all staff on the floor, regardless of if they were on his care team or not. He loved it! Providing a smile to everyone he passed.”
In addition to bringing smiles to the 7th floor, Flin spent a lot of time with Star Studio. During Bingo, he built a good rapport with The Dude , Jen recalled.
“Children’s [Minnesota] was his second home over the last year and we are forever grateful for the care provided to him as well as us,” Jen said. “Children’s [Minnesota] feels like family and if we had to be anywhere to help Flin with his fight against cancer, we are glad it was here.”
Flin’s last treatment was on May 31, 2022. One month later, after scans showed no evidence of disease, he had his port removed. He now returns for follow up visits. Today, Flin is back to himself – being as active as any 6-year-old could be! He spends his time hiking and biking outside with his family, and is really looking forward to starting school.
About Shine Bright for Kids
Shine Bright for Kids is a fundraiser for Children’s Minnesota, home to the largest pediatric cancer and blood disorders program in the Upper Midwest. Whether you donate online or shop with a participating business, you’ll help children like Flin keep fighting. Your gift supports everything from special therapies to life-saving research to mortgage and rent relief. Donate now at https://www.childrensmn.org/shinebrightforkids/.