The carefree childhood of Liam Witt came to a screeching halt last year when a routine visit to the doctor for flulike symptoms led to devastating news: He had neuroblastoma, a rare cancer of the nervous system. Since then, 3-year-old Liam has endured countless scans, an 11-1/2-hour surgery, 14 sessions of radiation, five rounds of chemotherapy, and now a series of antibody treatments that doctors hope will cure the cancer once and for all. "He's been a prince throughout the whole ordeal," says his mom, Gretchen. "His courage and spirit give us hope."
Here, Liam comforts a doll who's getting a pretend CT scan.
Liam receives potent medications through a surgically implanted port in his chest. He calls it his "button."
The search for the best doctors brought the Witt family to New York City, where they've rented an apartment near Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Gretchen and her husband, Larry, prepare their son for another grueling day of treatment, one of five this week.
The toxic treatment can leave Liam open to infection, so his hospital routine begins with a painful injection of medication to increase his white-blood-cell count.
Waiting for the drugs to take effect, Liam goes for a stroll with his mom. He likes the way their voices echo in the long hospital hallways.
The children's wing at Sloan-Kettering has a large playroom that's filled with toys. Liam hangs out at the train table with Victoria Celiz, one of his many new friends.
Liam likes to choose who gives him the Tylenol that keeps his fever down during treatment. Some days, he picks a favorite nurse. Today, he says he's "not comfy," so he asks for Mom.
Powerful drugs flow through Liam's 35-pound body: narcotics to kill pain and antibodies to destroy any new cancer cells. "The disease is gone for now," Gretchen says. "But neuroblastoma has a nasty habit of making return visits."
After eight hours at the hospital, Gretchen battles busy city traffic. The family is eager to move back to their tranquil New Jersey suburb and return to their normal routine.
As night falls, the little prince conks out on the sofa with his mother and his sister, Ella, 22 months. Tomorrow, he'll wake up with a smile and head back for another day of treatment. "He's so courageous," Gretchen says. "If anyone can fight this battle, Liam can."
The Witts, along with other families whose children have been stricken with neuroblastoma, are working to raise awareness of this childhood cancer and to help support research that will improve treatment.
In Memory: Liam lost his battle with cancer on January 24, 2011. He was 4 years old. Read more about Liam's journey on PrinceLiamTheBrave.blogspot.com or visit CookiesForKidsCancer.org, a non-profit started by Liam's parents to increase funding toward cancer therapies for kids.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of Parents magazine. Updated 2011.