Join the Gilcris family for a book reading December 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Child Life Center.

Bear Hugs, and What Cancer Canknot Do

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Thursday December 04, 2014

Why is the sky blue?
Can I go out to play?
Will you read me a story?

These are questions that parents of a small child are prepared to answer.

But South Burlington residents Eric and Anna Gilcris had to answer much more difficult questions in December 2011, answers that could be too complex for their three-year-old son, Bryce, to process:

What is cancer?
What will happen to Daddy?

Eric Gilcris was just 29 years old when he was diagnosed with grade 4 glioblastoma brain cancer. Over the course of a month, he began experiencing intense headaches, and eventually had to leave his accounting job early during the day to cope with the pain. He needed lots of sleep.

As the symptoms persisted, his wife Anna convinced him to see a doctor. He was prescribed with migraine medication during the first visit, but that didn’t provide relief. When he returned, he asked for an MRI, and subsequently, Eric and Anna were met with daunting news.

“They found a mass the size of a baseball in the frontal lobe,” Eric recalled. “A million thoughts flew through my head: my life, my family.”

Eric remained in the hospital for a few days before he was released, still unsure of whether or not the mass was cancerous. Almost immediately after returning home he was sent back for emergency surgery and 80 percent of the tumor was removed. Not long after the surgery they received the diagnosis: it was grade 4 glioblastoma brain cancer, with a general prognosis of 6 months to a year to live.

It was news Bryce would eventually have to hear, but Eric and Anna worried about how a three-year old could grasp the weight of the word “cancer?”

While Eric was bedridden and battling through his recovery process, Bryce looked for ways to help, so he gave Eric “bear hugs” to help give him strength. It was a reminder that even though Daddy was sick, he could still play and be there for his child.

“He thought he was doing everything he could,” Eric said.

Bryce’s bear hugs provided encouragement during Eric’s recovery and became the inspiration for the couple to write an uplifting children’s book about a complex topic. Knowing how much Bryce enjoyed story time with his parents, Eric and Anna found a creative way to tell their own story and wrote and published “Bear Hugging and Cancer Crushing,” a rhyming children’s book.

“Children’s books are amazing and almost always filled with life’s lessons told in a way that a child can understand,” Anna shared. “Children have so many questions when they learn of a parent’s diagnosis, and everyone needs to find strength through what can be a trying time.”

After many bear hugs, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, Eric defied his prognosis. His regular MRIs continue to show positive results, and he’s back to working full-time . And the Gilcris family has grown to include a daughter, Erica, who was born eight months ago.

Bryce, now 6, now “talks about it [cancer] in a way that he gets,” Eric explained. “He still can’t believe he’s in a book. It seems surreal to him.”

The Gilcris family continued to strengthen and find ways to give other families hope. They crafted a knot design for a bracelet, a friend put the mold together, and they shared their creation and story with Perrywinkle’s Fine Jewelry in Burlington. Perrywinkles was inspired by the family and enthusiastically agreed to help. They expanded the line to include other pieces, such as earrings and necklaces.

“Our Cancer Canknot™ Jewelry is custom-designed to look like a cancer ribbon with a knot in the middle of the ribbon to symbolize strength and be a reminder of everything that cancer Canknot™ do,” Anna shared. “Whether you are a survivor, a person battling cancer or a part of the support system for the person fighting with the disease, you can wear this jewelry as an unspoken word to how you have been affected by cancer and what it Canknot™ do.”

Chris and Anna held an exclusive launch party at Perrywinkle’s for their new jewelry line and the “Bear Hugging and Cancer Crushing” book on November 19. The support was outstanding; manypeople attended — some of whom they did not know but were touched by their efforts. All of the available copies of the book were sold. A portion of the funds for the jewelry and the book go to cancer research.

Additionally, the Gilcris family will have a book reading on December 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Child Life Center during a cancer support group meeting--another opportunity to share their story and reach out to others.

Eventually, Chris and Anna hope the message about their book and jewelry line continue to spread. Having the book in hospitals and gift shops, and having the jewelry become a recognized symbol of solidarity are future dreams for the family.

One step at a time, they change lives. Eric recalled being on a flight for a business trip when he overheard “cancer” in a conversation. After contemplating whether or not to approach the individuals, he made his way over and shared his story.

“It was a good decision,” Eric said. “I walked away feeling amazing and thought ‘I hope that I helped them’.”

Cancer Canknot™ — and will not — stop his will to live, to help, to hope.

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SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent