Mike and Joanna Irwin welcomed their son, William Michael Irwin, on October 1, 2018. In early January, when Will was three months old, the Irwins noticed a lump on Will’s head. Blood tests and CT scans revealed that Will had stage IV cancer.
Based solely on preliminary pathology, Will’s oncologists started him on chemotherapy for Neuroblastoma. The full pathology results revealed that Will’s cancer was unidentifiable – only that it originated in the adrenal gland. Top pathologists around the country and South America could not agree on a diagnosis or a treatment plan – to this day, we still do not know what type of cancer Will had.
Will’s oncologist at CHOC, Dr. Ashley Plant-Fox, referred the family to Dr. Raj Venkatramani, Director of Rare Tumors, at Texas Children’s Hospital for specialized care. Dr. Venkatramani, welcomed the family with open arms and started Will on a chemotherapy protocol that included six different drugs. The therapies prescribed for Will’s treatment were not intended for children and proved to be very hard on his fragile body.
After a few months, Will’s tumors began to shrink and everyone was hopeful. Unfortunately, Will took a turn for the worse when he was five and a half months old. That was when doctors shared the devastating news that cancer had spread to Will’s brain, requiring emergency surgery to implant a shunt and relieve fluid that had built up. Will spent the remainder of his life, about three months, in the ICU at CHOC. At just eight months old, on May 31, 2019, Will passed away in his favorite place — the embrace of mom and dad’s arms. It was through their heartbreak that his parents knew this was the start of their mission to honor their son. Mike and Joanna created the Will Irwin Fund at the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation to fund lifesaving research and are fierce advocates for moving science forward.