In January 2021, Wesley Cary and his siblings had just returned from a weekend skiing in Winter Park when his dad, Hans, noticed something strange: his son's eye was swollen. Hans and his wife, Aja, waited a day to see if the swelling would reduce on it's own before taking 6-year-old Wesley into the pediatrician, where he was administered a round of antibiotics. The medicine didn't work, and by February, the Cary family understood why--Wesley had leukemia.
Wesley, a sports fan and cherished brother and son, will be honored as the Rapids' Kid Captain during Colorado's matchup with New England Revolution on Saturday as the club and league celebrates Kick Childhood Cancer month this September. His journey from 2021 to now is one of bravery, hope, and how a family and community can band together to support one of their own.
In February of 2021 the dangers of coronavirus posed difficulty in the search for the cause behind Wesley’s swollen eye--new strains were still being discovered and hospitals were filled with patients infected with the virus. He was kept in isolation for weeks and was administered multiple tests, all which finally led to the diagnosis that it was a virus, just not COVID-19. It was an amoeba eating its way toward Wesley’s brain. If his parents hadn’t brought him to the hospital as quickly as he did, Wesley could have died.
Once the problem was identified, Wesley underwent surgery on his eye, removing all traces of the amoeba, but still leaving behind the question: Why did this happen in the first place?
During those weeks in the hospital Aja spoke with several doctors and nurses and began to have a hunch about the real cause for her son’s condition—cancer. By the three-week mark, Wesley was diagnosed with leukemia.
At 6 years old, Wesley had an outlook on the situation beyond his years, one of practicality and hope.
“He is a processor, even when you don't think he's listening or paying attention he is,” said Aja. “And he absorbs every single thing that we say, what the doctors say, all of that, so I wasn't surprised at how he responded to things. He didn't cry, or he didn't say like, ‘Why me?’ He didn't do any of that. He was just more like, ‘Well, this is just kind of what we have to do’.
“As a parent, you're overwhelmed with everything. And you're asking the ‘Why me’. And he would just be like, ‘Oh, Mom, it's okay. It's just part of it. I'm strong enough for this.’”
Photo: Wesley with former Colorado Avalanche forward, J.T. Compher
Part of that strength came from Wesley’s siblings; 4-year-old Jackson and 9-year-old Noelle. As the artist of the family, Noelle would create a special drawing for Wesley every time he had to go back to the hospital for treatment.
The two siblings understand the circumstances around their brother’s illness, but that didn’t let it stop them from playing together like any other family.
“I think that's the biggest blessing in all of this is that the families that we have met where the kids don't have siblings struggled a lot more than the families who had siblings,” said Aja. "He would come home from a hard day of treatment and have all this pain and his siblings weren't like, ‘Oh, let me pamper you,’ they'd be like, ‘Do you want to go ride your bike with us?’ I think it really kind of helped him grow and not sit at home and be hurt.”
Photo: From left to right: Wesley, his brother Jackson, and sister Noelle
After the first year of intense chemotherapy treatments and countless nights spent in the hospital, Wesley is now in “maintenance,” a stage that isn’t full remission but allows Wesley to go back to being a kid full-time while keeping his condition in check with daily chemo pills.
Now, Wesley enjoys lacrosse, baseball, and even joined the swim team this summer. While days spent in the hospital are not completely past him, the family soaks up every opportunity to spend time together doing things they all love; camping, watching sports together, and having family meals every night they can.
Photo: Wesley with his lacrosse team this summer
“For us, just spending time as a family and really valuing and appreciating each other is really important,” said Aja. “I mean, we were at a point where we almost lost a kid, right? So, I think we look at the world a little bit differently, and we just try to give to other people and support other people as much as they've given to us.”
Photo: Wesley with the Rapids' Starting XI against New England
Wesley was honored at the Rapids' match with New England Revolution as Colorado's Kid Captain, where he aided captain Andreas Maxsø with the coin toss, posed with the Rapids' Starting XI, and acted as Oar Captain, a tradition held by supporter group Centennial 38.
Learn more about the league's KCC initiatives and ways you can support here.