After spending the past few months crossing items off his bucket list, a young teen in Edmonton is leaving behind a lasting legacy.
Thirteen-year-old Tyler Palmowski died early Tuesday morning after a battle with a rare brain tumour, known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
It’s a rare and highly aggressive cancer of the brainstem that’s next to impossible to treat. Only 10 per cent of children with DIPG survive for two years following their diagnosis, and less than one per cent survive for five years.
The median survival time is nine months from diagnosis, according to the DIPG registry, which is run by an international network of experts studying and treating the cancer.
Tanya and Luke Palmowski said they decided to donate their son’s tumour for further research at the DIPG registry, in the hopes of helping other families with children battling cancer.
“Since we couldn’t cure him … maybe they could find a cure and no other family or child would go through this again,” Tanya said.
Tyler was first diagnosed with a brain tumour back in 2015.
Then, in early 2020, Tyler started having trouble closing his left eye while on a trip to Mexico.
“It was a really rough go for him, but he was a trooper and fought really well.”
“He ended up beating it,” Luke said in April. “We came back for the results … and we were completely shocked. There was a new growth in his brain. It’s different than what it was before. It’s in the brain stem. It’s more challenging to treat.”
From April to November, Tyler and his family dedicated themselves to working through his bucket list, in between treatments.
Tyler’s list included dreams like “camping in a cabin on a lake with my family so we can go fishing every day,” “getting a puppy” and “flying a plane.”
“For us, it meant everything. Just being able to spend that quality time with him and our family,” Tanya said.
The teen was able to cross off “flying a plane” this past April, after Flair Airlines welcomed him to act as first officer on a Flair Airlines 737 and taxi a plane down the runway in Edmonton.
As word spread about the list, Luke said complete strangers began reaching out to help Tyler live his dreams.
“There were so many people that touched our lives … and people who said how much Tyler has touched their lives,” Luke said. “It makes us proud to be his parents. He was able to invoke that kind of positivity into our people. We want to continue on his legacy for years to come.”
The family said the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges for their son’s own treatment.
“We did end up talking to a doctor in Germany. Tyler and Luke flew there to meet with him. We got chemotherapy pills that were also in the States.
“He did start his treatment, but unfortunately, it didn’t work for our sweet boy. The tumor spread through his brain and spine.”
Luke and Tanya said giving back was in Tyler’s nature.
“Tyler loved helping people. He was the child on the schoolyard who didn’t let people get bullied. He would give the shirt off his back for anyone in need,” Tanya said.
The family hopes that the donation of his tumour will help move research forward.
“Unfortunately, there’s not enough research for DIPG. So many kids are suffering. We want to change that. We’ve met so many families here in Canada who are suffering,” Tanya said.
“Tyler’s second tumour was caused by the radiation he had from his first cancer. We’re hoping Tyler may be the missing piece to this puzzle to help the doctors find a cure for this,” Luke said.