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Local child with cancer granted chance to meet pope

Family holding fundraisers to help pay for trip

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published April 20, 2016

 Gabriel Richard, 6, takes a picture with Detroit Tigers mascot Paws at Comerica Park. Gabriel has a form of incurable brain cancer. His family is attempting to raise funds for him to visit the pope in Rome.

Gabriel Richard, 6, takes a picture with Detroit Tigers mascot Paws at Comerica Park. Gabriel has a form of incurable brain cancer. His family is attempting to raise funds for him to visit the pope in Rome.

Photo provided by the Richard family

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — “He’s afraid of dying.”

That’s what Daniela Richard said of her 6-year-son, Gabriel, who was diagnosed at age 5 with pilomyxoid astrocytoma — or brain cancer — in March 2015.

Gabriel has a tumor in the front of his brain. He has undergone 12 months of chemotherapy and has another nine months ahead of him. His body is so fragile that he has no immune system. He could have a heart attack from something as simple as a slight bone break.

His cancer is chronic, and there is no cure.

Richard said her son was misdiagnosed for nearly 1 1/2 years. She and her husband, Patrick, visited doctors at numerous hospitals and even at a private company.

Visits to three different places resulted in three different diagnoses: One hospital thought he had OCD, another thought he had anxiety disorder and another diagnosed him with Asperger syndrome. 

“Gabe was becoming very aggressive and very violent,” she said. “They thought he was autistic. Every place I was going I was getting something different.”

When Daniela and Patrick saw other signs of their son’s condition, they continued to find out what was wrong.

“I started seeing what are called silent seizures, and when I saw silent seizures, I knew things were becoming more complicated,” Daniela said.

Gabriel has spent the last 13 months at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. He has nightmares three to four times per week, and he understands his condition as well as any 6-year-old could. He once even asked his mother why she put a tumor in his brain.

Daniela told a story about a family pet dying. Gabriel cried at the news, not only because his pet had passed, but because he feared the same fate. He told his mom that he doesn’t want to go to heaven; he wants to stay with his family.

“It’s gut wrenching,” she said. “It breaks your heart. When my family went camping, he wanted to go swimming in the lake but he couldn’t. He’s standing at the beach, bawling, saying, ‘I want to be normal.’ It rips your heart out.”

Gabriel tends to have a happy disposition. He is a first-grader at Seminole Academy in Mount Clemens. He plays in parks like a regular boy, loves Legos and enjoys puzzles.

He goes to school whenever he doesn’t have chemotherapy appointments, which are usually on Mondays. His cousin, Laura DeVonce — who lives nearby — drives him. 

“I try to help as much as I can,” said DeVonce. “When we got the diagnosis, it put everyone in a tizzy.

“It’s heartbreaking to me because (Gabriel’s) like my son, I adore him. I’ve been close to him since he was born. Sometimes at chemo,  he’s the oldest one there.”

The Richard family goes to church every Sunday. Daniela’s father was a deacon for 25 years in the Archdiocese of Detroit, making several trips to Rome during that period.

He found out about the papal process, in which individuals can meet Pope Francis under certain circumstances. He joked one day with his daughter, asking if the family would want to go to Italy if he could get an appointment with the pope. Gabriel cites the pope as the “boss of all the priests.”

Daniela thought nothing of it, until it actually happened. She said the family is trying to raise $12,000 for airfare, a hotel and about five days of accomodations. Gabriel would be able to sit in the front row of a Wednesday papal speaking session at the Vatican, receiving the pope’s blessing in the process.

The journey in a span of one year has rocked the worlds of Gabriel and his family, which includes his 3-year-old sister, Angela. Gabriel consumes 18 pills per day, and he knows all of their names and when to ingest them.

The light at the end of this tunnel is believed to be at the Vatican. At least that’s the hope.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Daniela said. “I learned that parents should never take for granted that their kids get sick, because it comes out of the blue. And I’ve learned a lot in my life to just let things go. I literally almost watched my son die.”

On May 1, at Alley 59 in Clinton Township, the family will host a bowling fundraiser. On June 9, at Villa Penna in Sterling Heights, the family will host a dinner fundraiser.

To donate to the family’s cause, visit their GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/x8v8pevu. 

For more information and more backstory, visit www.gabesjourney.com.

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