Nfld. & Labrador

Puppy party in the park for 9-year-old tops Children's Wish trip to meet great-grandmother

Dozens of dogs, and their owners, walked into Bowring Park in support of Leeland Hill, 9, and to have a puppy party.

Leeland Hill wanted to meet his 'manny Thorne,' but he got to meet a whole lot more

Leeland Hill has a puppy party in Bowring Park on Monday. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Dozens of dogs and their owners trotted into Bowring Park in St. John's Monday for a puppy party in support of a nine-year-old boy with terminal brain cancer.

Leeland Hill was diagnosed with medulloblastoma in 2013, and is in St. John's as part of the Children's Wish Foundation's effort to allow him to meet his great-grandmother and throw her a 90th birthday party, after missing an opportunity to meet her two years ago. 

"I said, 'Is this what you want, honey? You can go to Disneyland and have some fun,' and he said, 'No, I want to come home and meet my manny Thorne.' That's how he says it," said Carol Beck, Leeland's grandmother.

"[He's] very selfless. If he goes into a store and he has any amount of money, he'll buy something for someone else."

Beck said being in Newfoundland while Leeland and his family are in Halifax has made it difficult to get to know her grandson, but now that he's on the island she's finally getting to fully know him — including his likes and dislikes. 

She said getting to spend time with her grandson has been an amazing experience, but not only for her.

Carol Beck, Leeland's grandmother, says Leeland has always been selfless, and choosing to visit family in Newfoundland for his wish instead of going somewhere like Disneyland is characteristic of him. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

"My mom was just ecstatic. She just couldn't believe when she saw him." Beck said.

"She's sick as well, so we've got two people who are very sick, and maybe we don't know if they'll see each other again. We're hoping they will." 

Hill said the best time to meet his great-grandmother was right now.

Her birthday party and the puppy party was icing on the cake.

"Newfoundland is fun. It's just like my old town," he said.

Pushing through

In 2013 doctors found a tennis ball-sized tumour on the back of Leeland's head, said Shane Beck, Leeland's father. 

Leeland was three years old at the time. 

Shane Beck said doctors originally thought they would only be able to remove 75 per cent of the tumour, but managed to remove it completely. 

What's more, a cyst had grown around the tumour, which prevented it from spreading down Leeland's spinal cord and into other organs, said Shane Beck. 

Leeland's favourite dog breed is the Bernese mountain dog, several of which showed up to meet him at Bowring Park on Monday. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

"So he beat it the first time. He was basically five years off treatment, and now we got the terrible news that it came back and it's not in the same spot. It's more in the stem so there's not really anything they can do to operate," he said. 

"It's too risky. It's too dangerous. Any type of a treatment just wouldn't give him a good quality of life."

Shane Beck said the news is completely heartbreaking, and he doesn't like to think about it too much. Living in the moment is what keeps him going, he said, and doctors told the family to give Leeland the best summer they could. 

Everybody has been just so supportive.- Shane Beck

During the day, while people are around, Shane Beck said, things are as normal as they can be, given the circumstances. But at night, things can be a little bit different when home life quiets down. 

"He just thinks about everyone else. He doesn't care what everyone thinks, but he does have his moments," Shane Beck said. 

"He'll be laying down at night, sometimes, and he'll say to us, 'Why do I have to get cancer again? Why me? I don't want to die. I want you guys to get me a cure. I want to beat this.'"

'Best summer ever'

Leeland's family has been overwhelmed with support for him, but wanted to keep the birthday party a private function with friends and family.

As a Plan B the family opted to host a public function in Bowring Park days later — a puppy party for Hill to meet as many dogs as he could ever hope for. 

The Bernese mountain dog sits at the very top of Hill's list of his favourite breeds. 

"Everybody has been just so supportive. Everybody," Shane Beck said.

Messages and e-mails are pouring in from overseas, with people from Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, sending good wishes and small gifts.

Leeland's father, Shane Beck, says things have been difficult since his son's cancer returned, but he's giving Leeland everything he wants to make sure he has the best life possible. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

The family has even more on the agenda when they return home to Nova Scotia.

Other groups and organizations want to give Leeland a lifetime experience. A P.E.I. potato farm and a tour from the Canadian Armed Forces — including an inside look at helicopters and tanks — is on the schedule if he's able enough to make the trip.

A young boy's wish comes true: See Katie Breen's report below

For now, Shane Beck said, the family allows Leeland to do whatever he wants — video games, chocolate for breakfast — allowing him to live the best life he can with his remaining time.

"For a child, it's one of the most difficult things to talk about and try to explain, because nobody wants to lose a child," Shane Beck said. 

"He's nine years old, and he's already been through hell and back."

Leeland's keeping a positive attitude despite knowing that he is very sick.

Meeting his great-grandmother, visiting Newfoundland, listening to his father sing songs and riding horses has been just a portion of his vacation so far. 

"Really fun. A lot of fun. Best summer ever," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Katie Breen

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