On October 5, 10-year-old Wyatt Pope walked onto the field of Bobby Dodd Stadium among some of his heroes: dozens of student-athletes from the Georgia Tech football team. As the honorary Junior Jacket Reporter, he was part of the action on game day, sharing his story with the Georgia Tech sideline reporter and cheering on his dad’s alma mater as they took on the North Carolina Tar Heels.
“Wyatt and all of his brothers — Gavin, Kaden and his twin, Colton — are Georgia Tech fans, so Wyatt is excited and honored for this opportunity,” said Wyatt’s mom, Carrie.
What Wyatt didn't realize was that all of the players and coaches on the field that day, as well as the thousands of fans in the stadium, were rooting for another hero. This hero may be a bit smaller, but he’s just as determined as his beloved Yellow Jackets. That hero was Wyatt.
Like so many other Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta patients who are taking on illness and injury with incredible courage, Wyatt is bravely battling a rare and aggressive cancer called Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (DSRCT), which causes tumors to form in the abdomen. “The statistics that were shared at the time of his diagnosis were not encouraging,” said Carrie. “But I just hold onto what his oncologist, Dr. Bradley George, said: ‘there is no reason he can’t be one of the 15% who survive.’”
Since he was diagnosed in 2016, Wyatt has had multiple rounds of chemotherapy, many surgeries, a month of radiation treatment, as well as immunotherapy. “It has been a long and difficult three-and-a-half years, but Wyatt has handled it all with grace and courage,” said Carrie.
The Popes had a short reprieve from the heavy burden of childhood cancer in 2018 when Wyatt’s scans came back clean. But just a few months later, the cancer returned and more treatments were necessary to target the tumors that had appeared on Wyatt’s liver, including chemotherapy and cryoablation procedures (using extreme cold to destroy cancerous tissue).
“As he underwent treatment and was battling hard, Wyatt and I had a few deep heart-to-heart conversations in his hospital room,” said Carrie. “The one that will forever be in my heart was when he asked me if he was going to die. I immediately answered — to this day not knowing where my words came from — that we all are going to die some day. Not one of us knows exactly when that will happen and we have to live for today. I told him that he needs to believe that his body is healthy and will be strong again. That the power of his mind is more powerful than the cancer in his body. That he is not alone in this fight and I would be with him at all times. I told him that he is so strong and the medicine he has to take makes him feel very sick, but that it is needed to get rid of the tumors in his body. Wyatt handled this talk with grace and so much wisdom. He is incredible.”
Each year, the specialists at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center diagnose more than 480 new cancer patients — that’s more than one new child diagnosed with cancer each day. It’s because of these patients, because of kids like Wyatt, that we come together each year as a community to celebrate Cape Day.
This annual event, held every October since 2014, is an opportunity to honor the many small-but-mighty superhero patients at Children’s who are putting up the good fight. Like the athletic heroes we all admire who give their all on the playing field, kids like Wyatt overcome unbelievable challenges each and every day.
On October 4, 2019, Children’s invited the people of Atlanta to wear a cape in honor of these special heroes and in support of the many teams — from doctors and nurses to family and friends — who work hard to make every child at Children’s feel like an MVP.
“We feel so fortunate to live so close to this hospital,” said Carrie. “I pray to God on a daily basis to bless these individuals for their wonderful gift to help heal the sick.”