DENVER —- This year, a Crested Butte family received a life-changing diagnosis. This holiday season, their story is an apparent reminder that sometimes the best gifts are never found under a tree.
"It's definitely given us a new appreciation for health," said Jennifer Allen. "I think that's something you take for granted until you or someone you love is sick."
Since August, Jennifer Allen has been in a balancing act of raising a newborn and seeking medical treatment for her son, Tyler.
The 2-year-old boy was diagnosed with kidney cancer this fall. The diagnosis came after a series of visits to the emergency department in the family's hometown of Crested Butte.
"He was having episodes where he couldn't breathe and had difficulty walking, and then even at times he was vomiting," Allen said.
Doctors eventually found the culprit to be a large tumor on the toddler's kidney.
Allen and her son were taken by helicopter to Children's Hospital Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora for emergency surgery.
"My first thought was, you know, please don't let him die," Allen said. "We were terrified, we didn't know what was going to happen — but basically the moment we got off the plane, the doctors were there to greet us and they reassured us that, 'We're pretty sure we know what this is, and we know how to fight this.'"
A surgical team at Children's Colorado successfully removed the tumor. Now, the boy's journey involves chemotherapy.
"The good news is that for the vast majority of kids with kidney cancer, they have great outcomes," said Dr. Nicholas Cost, Tyler's surgeon from Children's Colorado.
The toddler is continuing chemotherapy at facilities closer to where the family is temporarily living. Dr. Cost says he's working closely with other providers to continue Tyler's treatment under the system of care provided by Children's Colorado.
"I really look at, how can we keep them in their normal activities? How can we keep them healthy otherwise? How can we keep their family doing well and functioning well?" Dr. Cost said.
"They have a whole team that's been there to support us, social workers, child care specialist — just anything we need, they've been there to help us," Allen said.
Allen says she's most amazed by her son's bravery through the entire ordeal.
"It's just been a huge adjustment for him, and he's just stayed so happy and kind throughout it all, so I'm just so proud of him," she said through tears.