30 kilometres, 30 pounds, 30,000 dollars

Lt Aaron Niles and his little brother Sean, who is now 11.

Lt Aaron Niles and his little brother Sean, who is now 11.

Emily Nakeff
Borden Citizen

The number 30 holds a special significance for Lieutenant Aaron Niles from CFB Borden. It’s how many days his little Sean brother was given to live in 2010.

At four months old his younger brother was diagnosed with infantile acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The aggressive cancer attacks the blood and bone marrow. Those diagnosed at under a year, like Sean, have a survival rate of 20 per cent.

After three years of constant treatment at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), three years of Lt Niles and his family holding onto hope, they got the news they feared most. The treatment wasn’t working.

There was nothing more they could do.

The then three-year-old Sean was given 30 days to live. Hearing those words, Lt Niles was overcome with dread.

“Everything sort of slows down. You stop comprehending time, you just get lost in your own thoughts.”

While the family tried to wrap their heads around giving Sean the most joyful, pain-free experience with the time he had left, his care team continued to work behind the scenes.

As a last resort, doctors suggested a treatment that, at the time, was still experimental and primarily being used in the U.S.

Sean underwent a kind of chemotherapy he hadn’t received before that tricked his body into fighting the cancer. The chances of it working were low. But it was still a chance.

Miraculously, the treatment worked.

They weren’t out of the woods. But after finding a match Sean underwent the painful bone marrow transplant that would ultimately save his life.

Today, 11-year-old Sean is cancer-free. The Fifth Grader likes video games and spending time with his family, though he is still coping with the physical effects of chemotherapy and radiation he received as a young child.

Lt Niles knows just how lucky his family is to have Sean with them today.

“There is that emotional damage in a sense. Even though he has lived, I carry that burden forever in my heart about how I almost lost someone. People are losing people they love every day, and I could have felt that as well.”

Which is why Lt Niles, a Public Affairs Officer for 16 Wing at CFB Borden, is embarking on a special journey called Ruck for a Cure.

On Friday, Sept. 10 he will march 30 kilometres starting at 16 Wing headquarters at Base Borden and ending at the Simcoe Muskoka Regional Cancer Centre in Barrie. The 6.5-hour walk will be done carrying 30 lbs of weight; his goal is to raise $30,000 in support of the Regional Cancer Centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH).

Though it’s a solo march, he is inviting his CFB Borden community to get involved by donating or walking with him for part of the journey. He is also asking military personnel affected in any way by cancer to let him carry their name tag and in so doing take a turn carrying their burden.

“We all carry the burden of those who have been affected by cancer. We carry their pain, their memory, and their loss. But it’s a burden that can be shared.”

To donate in support of Lt Niles and his Ruck for a Cure, visit https://foundation.rvh.on.ca/ruck-for-a-cure/

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