Gavin Mills and his wife Natasha were still settling into their new roles as parents to three-month-old Fiona when Gavin had the shock of his life — routine blood tests that revealed high white blood cell counts, and a phone call that followed confirming he had cancer.
“I received the call on a Friday afternoon while at work. I told my boss I had to go home and deal with this,” recalls Gavin. “I was already traumatized by cancer because I had family members who had suffered. I didn’t know what I was facing.”
It was March 2021 and, while dealing with the everyday pressures of COVID-19 and being a new dad, Gavin was now facing a cancer diagnosis. After additional consultations and tests with cancer specialists at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, doctors determined Gavin had a form of early-stage blood cancer, causing his cells to reproduce in a deformed state and take up space in his bone marrow.
While not an aggressive cancer, it is one that is rarely cured, meaning Gavin would need to learn how to live with cancer.
“I will have cancer my whole life,” explains Gavin. “This was difficult to comprehend at first, but the QEII teams really helped ease my mind and educate me on how to live with this form of cancer.”
Living with cancer for Gavin means strict monitoring of his organs through routine blood tests, to get ahead of any arising issues. With a reduced immune response, staying healthy is key for Gavin.
“Getting sick with COVID or anything else is higher-risk for me. Sickness or diseases that the body would normally fight off could be a big concern for me, especially later in life,” he says.
Learning how to live with cancer also saw Gavin register for the QEII Foundation’s BMO Ride for Cancer event and become a highlighted patient voice in the QEII Foundation’s recently launched We Are campaign — a $100 million campaign to transform care at the QEII.
“It is a huge honour to be part of the campaign. I’m really excited about it — it’s just the beginning of being an advocate to do anything I can for better cancer treatments and limit suffering,” shares Gavin.
While Gavin is grateful his form of cancer is not hereditary, the family connections to cancer run deep. He was at his aunt’s bedside when she passed from cancer and, just a few years later, was at his father’s beside when he passed from what started as prostate cancer — a few months shy of him meeting Gavin’s daughter, the first grandchild.
“During one of the last visits I had with dad, I was able to show him an ultrasound picture and he even got to feel the baby kick a little bit,” smiles Gavin. “Dad was so excited to meet our baby — I wish he had lived long enough to see her face.”
Sharing his story and being profiled in the Foundation’s We Are campaign is important to Gavin, who knows his father would be proud of him for doing so.
“We all deal with health issues in our life and sadly, will watch loved ones go through tough times. That’s what the We Are campaign is all about — getting better treatments and care and keeping up with new research and advancements. All of that takes money but donors can make that happen,” says Gavin.
“Supporting local health care makes a lot of sense, to make an impact on your life and your loved ones’ lives.”