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Park City family faces unexpected cancer diagnosis at their one-year-old baby’s wellness check-up

PARK CITY, Utah — It was just an ordinary well visit for Michelle and Aaron Dufford’s one-year-old son, Tanner, when their pediatrician, Dr. Kathy Ostler noticed a lump on his belly.

The immediate thought was that it was constipation, but in the back of everyone’s mind was the thought that this had potential tumor-like qualities. One week later, after attempts to alleviate the mass were futile, they went back to the doctor and were immediately sent to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. The mass in Tanner’s belly turned out to be part cyst and part nephroblastoma, which is also known as a Wilm’s Tumor.

“You just don’t ever imagine that your kid is gonna have cancer and I just remember sitting there thinking, I wish that I could take it for him, anything I could do to take it away from him, because he’s so little,” Michelle said.

Tanner had to undergo major surgery to remove the kidney where the tumor had been growing, and is currently in recovery at home with his family while they discuss next steps. The good news is that there are no more signs of cancer visible through the rest of his body. The bad; Michelle and Aaron have to make the decision to have Tanner undergo chemotherapy or wait it out. The choice is not an easy one, so they have sought out a second opinion from Boston Children’s Hospital with the hopes both teams are aligned in their recommendations.

“I just want to make sure that we feel like everybody’s on the same page,” Michelle said. “We don’t want to do chemo, but we also don’t want to go back in three months to find that it’s reoccurred in the other kidney, because then what are we doing; now we’re down to one kidney. So, we need to lay out all of those situations and be asking those questions to be the biggest advocate for him.”

Michelle and Aaron want to remind the community that parent advocacy is crucial, but even more importantly to prioritize their children’s yearly wellness visits, because if it weren’t for their doctor, this could have gone on longer and there’s a scary unknown there.

“If our pediatrician had not said anything, we would just be going about our daily lives and potentially not have found this for a few months, so we’re very thankful that she was intuitive enough to find that.” Aaron said. For him and Michelle, having that thought in the back of their minds to watch out for, was what led them to the hospital a week later. For Aaron, he feels Michelle is their family advocate saying, “having someone in your family that says let’s just make sure this isn’t what we think it is sooner than later.”

The Duffords have lived in Park City for years, but they do not have immediate family in the area. However, the minute word got out that Tanner was heading into surgery, the Park City community became their core support system within hours; helping with caring for their older son, bringing meals, and helping navigate this new world they were in.

“People were really showing up in their best way as they know how, and it was so supportive,” Michelle said. “To go this alone, I just don’t know how we would do it.”

Michelle and Aaron are grateful to the community support, and the ability to lean on to their doctors during this tough time, knowing they don’t have to do it all.

“We could feel the power of prayer and energy across the United States as family, friends and people we have never met joined together to support us and Tanner,” Michelle said.

Tanner’s doctors are impressed by how well he has recovered from his surgery, and while the road ahead is looking like a positive one for him, the family has experienced a life change that no parent ever wants to face: the unknown.

“From an emotional standpoint, for a mother, I can tell it’s incredibly difficult for Michelle, and the unknown is whether we go to chemo or no chemo. But, there’s still going to be this thought that, this was taken out… is it going to come back?” Aaron said.

For Michelle, her mindset has changed significantly with the anxiety of what’s next always on the horizon.

“I was never a worrier. I did not feel like I was an anxious person, and I feel full of anxiousness all the time right now, so I’m trying to figure out what I do with that energy,” Michelle said. “So I’ve tried to say to myself, ‘Okay, the next two years how are we going to make this fun when we go to Salt Lake how are we going to make this positive’ because we can choose that we’re going to be negative about it, or we can choose we’re going to be positive about it… It’s just as easy to to choose either I think.”

For those interested in helping support the Dufford family, a GoFundMe has been set up for them. To follow Tanner’s journey, the family has started a CaringBridge journal to keep everyone up to date.

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