Holding a pink controller, Aiden Hennigir, 4, dances around his living room as he shoots invaders on his favorite video game.
He was given doctors’ permission to play video games after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma, an eye cancer that develops from the immature cells of the retina.
“Aiden likes to remind us the doctors said (the games) are good for his healthy eye,” said Aiden’s mother, Shelene Hennigir. “How can I argue with that?”
Hennigir said she first noticed Aiden’s condition after his left eye rolled up and in toward his nose.
“He had what I thought was a lazy eye,” Hennigir said. “I just figured he needed glasses to correct it.”
After she couldn’t get an appointment to see their optometrist, Hennigir called a doctor she used to work for and asked if he could write Aiden a prescription.
“I brought Aiden to his office that day, and he just about fell off his stool,” Hennigir said. “He told me Aiden’s retina was detached and he had thousands of tumors in his eye.”
Within two weeks, Aiden had appointments with retina specialists at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“In the time it took us to get to California, his pupil was no longer visible,” Hennigir said. “The cancer grew so fast we were staring at it.”
According to Hennigir, the doctor said Aiden’s case was very rare because of his age.
“Most children get it between infancy and 3-years-old, and 3 is pushing it,” Hennigir said. “Because Aiden was 4 years old, he was the talk of the whole hospital.”
Doctors diagnosed Aiden on Dec. 15 and removed his left eye on Dec. 20.
Hennigir was asked not to tell Aiden about the loss of his eye to avoid giving him anxiety. But three weeks after the operation, Aiden was searching for it in the mirror.
“He’s very knowledgeable. I couldn’t lie to him,” Hennigir said. “I sat him down and told him the doctor had to take his eye because it was very sick.”
The news didn’t faze Aiden.
“I think it’s cool,” he said. “It’s awesome. Someone even painted my fake eye for me.”
Aiden started six rounds of chemotherapy in February and finished them with flying colors, according to Hennigir.
“He lost his hair and was tired some days, but he never threw up,” she said. “He was basically untouched.”
If it wasn’t for Aiden’s positive attitude, Hennigir said the process would have been more emotionally exhausting.
“It went so fast that we didn’t have a second to cry about it,” Hennigir said. “When you wake up to a smiling kid, it’s easier to deal with.”
Aiden’s family and friends recently threw him a party to celebrate being cancer-free and done with chemotherapy.
Because of his triumph, his doctors referred him to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.
He joined 21 other Make-A-Wish recipients on a Disney dream cruise to Castaway Cay in the Bahamas in August.
“My favorite (character) was Goofy’s son, Max,” Aiden said. “We got to dance with the dolphins, too.”
In addition to the cruise, Aiden was asked by the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada to be an ambassador at its annual “Race for Our Kids” fundraiser event in September. Aiden’s race team collected more than $1,400.
“They must have picked him because of his little personality,” Hennigir said.
The foundation, which offers support and services to families of children with cancer, paid for Aiden’s prosthetic eye and a new pair of glasses. They also provided Hennigir with gasoline and food gift cards while they traveled to Aiden’s appointments in California.
Despite doctors advising him not to participate in sports, Aiden plans to start playing baseball. He said he also enjoys playing board games and wrestling with his friends when his parents aren’t watching.
“He lost his hair and an eye, but that’s it,” Hennigir said. “He’s our super Aiden.”