The sound of iron pickaxes rang across the Rocky Mountains, and behind the “ping," aspiring paleontologist and cancer survivor Noah Mills.
Dinosaur digging in Montana is what Noah chose for his Make-A-Wish, and last week, that wish became a reality.
Noah explained, “I’ve been a dinosaur hunter since I was five.”
Noah is about to turn eight years old, and he has been cancer-free for nearly three years. Just as Noah started his career as a “Dino Hunter,” he and his family received gut-wrenching news. It just so happened they were on a family vacation in Glacier National Park.
A tummy ache led to a CT scan showing a large abscess on his right kidney. Jason and Shannon Mills packed their then sick son to Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado.
They would discover and diagnose Noah with Bilateral Wilms, a cancer of the kidneys. It was shocking news to family and friends, especially the severity - Stage 5.
No matter what stage, it didn’t deter his mother Shannon from living each day to the fullest. “Strangely enough, I just felt deep in my heart that he was going to be okay. As scary and as rare as it was…”
Noah was expecting up to 12 weeks of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors and surgically remove parts of each kidney. It wasn’t that easy. Following surgery, Noah would add another several more months of chemo treatment.
Doctors would remove seven tumors between each kidney.
There was one guiding light through the process, his father said:“We’ve all rallied around the dinosaurs.”
That’s what they’re doing today, rallying around dinosaurs as a family in Montana.
A memorable trip that has included great food, horseback riding in Glacier National Park, and the experience of a two-day dinosaur dig with Montana Dinosaur Center in Bynum, Montana.
“This has been his wish since the beginning, and it hasn't changed. And it's like being at home with him, knowing him, living with him, and being my little brother. You can kind of see why it hasn't changed. And I mean, even from when he was probably four or five years old, the names that he was able to pronounce, the things that he would like or remember about dinosaurs are genuinely insane.” Told his sister, Ella Dunn.
Even though this trip has revolved around Noah, his older brother Carson has taken the time to reflect on what this entire experience has meant to him.
“He’s set a bar for me to be, like, stronger in my life because he's gone through so much stuff that nobody has even thought about going through and, like, radiation and a bunch of surgeries. That has kind of made me think as a person how strong that I could be.”
It’s a reflecting moment that this entire family has felt throughout this cancer journey.
Cory Coverdell, director of Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, is excited to have a child like Noah attend his dig. Inspiring the younger generation of scientists to tell the story of the planet’s past. More importantly, this born and raised Montanan feels a sense of pride for his community in welcoming the Mills with a warm embrace.
“It really comes down to just being a Montanan, and that's what you do. You help people in need, and you help people do something that's incredible. And then you work with people to do it and do what it takes to make it a good experience.”
The Mills Family was gifted an all-inclusive stay for their Make-A-Wish trip, not only from the foundation, but from members of the Central Montana community.
Carol Bloom of Simms donated her entire guest house for their stay in Big Sky Country. Carol rallied the community around her and received generous donations for dining including Street Burgers and Jakers Bar & Grill in Great Falls, and Buffalo Joe’s Eatery & Saloon in Dupuyer. The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center treated the entire family to a free tour and greeted Noah with a gift basket.
“Three years ago, when we found out Noah had cancer, we were actually in Glacier… So, it’s really cool to kind of circle back to Montana… it ‘completes our journey’ of Noah having cancer…” expressed Carson Dunn, Noah’s brother.
To end the day, Noah’s father said with tears in his eyes, “That feeling is a bit overwhelming. to know that people care. Knowing that you have a debt that you can never repay. That people care…. That’s pretty powerful…”