CASTLE ROCK — Gabriel Shefchek is 6 years old, but he has already proven doctors wrong four times.
Two years ago, he was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer that attacks the nervous system. He has had brain surgery, bone marrow transplants and endless chemotherapy treatments.
Doctors told his parents, Kassie and Justin Shefchek, four times that there was nothing more they could do for him, but Gabriel and his family don’t give up easily.
“His life has been overcoming obstacle after obstacle after obstacle,” Kassie Shefchek said. “We just want him to have a normal life.”
Gabriel is this year’s recipient of the 40th annual Toy Soldier Bazaar, which took place Saturday. Each year, the holiday bazaar chooses a child battling illness to receive the proceeds from vendor registration fees.
This year, the bazaar raised about $1,500, according to Chairwoman Diane La Rue.
“(The bazaar) is important because all the children we’ve helped, like Gabriel, are fighting some sort of disease, and the families have come upon some kind of hardship and need help financially,” La Rue said. “Every child should have a chance to be able to fight for their lives.”
In addition to neuroblastoma, Gabriel has faced many challenges in his young life. At a young age he was diagnosed with Weaver Syndrome, a gene mutation that allows cells to grow and reproduce at a faster rate than typical cells. There are only 28 known cases of Weaver Syndrome worldwide, his parents said.
Gabriel is not yet 7 years old but he is already 5 feet tall and 95 pounds. Doctors project Gabriel would be 7 feet, 10 inches tall by his mid teens.
The Weaver Syndrome made Gabriel’s cancer spread much more rapidly than normal. But his condition also has helped him recover quickly. He was out riding a bike two days after doctors removed a golf ball-sized tumor from his brain, according to his family, which lives in Castle Rock.
“The doctors are baffled and amazed by Gabriel because everything they say will happen usually doesn’t happen. He usually does the exact opposite,” his mom said. “They say ‘Gabriel drives his own bus.’ ”
Gabriel also is autistic, so dependable routines are crucial to making him feel comfortable and safe. But life is chaotic when it comes to battling cancer, his parents said.
The Shefcheks say their son is emotionally-driven and full of unconditional love. Once, during a doctor’s visit, Gabriel insisted on taking care of a nurse who had burned her hand on her curling iron before he started his own appointment.
“He’s so sweet and loving and generous with his emotions to people,” his mom said. “There’s nobody in the world like him.”
You have free articles remaining.
The Shefcheks estimate that Gabriel’s medical costs have totaled more than $7 million. Despite insurance, their medical bills have stacked up — such as a $20,000 bill to Life Flight and a $10,000 bill to a doctor in New York, whom they visit every three months.
On top of everything, Justin Shefchek was let go from his job at a Longview sawmill in April for missing too much work.
On Oct. 9, four days before Gabriel was set to hit the 100-day mark indicating he was in the clear, doctors said he relapsed. They told his parents he had six months left.
But the Shefcheks said they aren’t ready to accept that.
“I’m a huge advocate for my son, and I’m not good at sitting idly by,” Kassie Shefchek said. “We both dove in head first and started looking for clinical trials.”
They have embarked on a clinical trial called Vidaza which is one week of chemotherapy followed by three weeks off. The plan is to do a year of this clinical trial and then hope Gabriel’s body is strong enough for another bone marrow transplant.
“I never knew what true strength was until (I saw Gabriel) and the ability he has to branch out to anybody,” his dad said. “If somebody is hurting or having a bad day, he feels it and he knows. ... It’s amazing watching him.”
They say the support from strangers through the Toy Soldier Bazaar has made a “world of difference.” Gabriel was the recipient last year as well, and the bazaar made it possible for the Shefcheks to have a Christmas, they said.
“It gives you a whole new perspective on humanity,” Justin Shefchek said. “We live in a very divided time where who you voted for can alter your friendships and ... to see one child bring an entire community together to fight for (him) is beautiful to watch.”
Proudly dressed in a Batman outfit Wednesday, Gabriel proclaimed he will be Superman for Halloween next year.
He happily talked about his recent Make A Wish trip to Disney World and all the tall scary rides he went on. One in particular, Tower of Terror, made even his dad shudder at the memory of the 165-foot drop. His mom marveled that all her children went on the ride.
“Was I brave?” Gabriel asked his mom. She smiled.
“You’re so brave.”