The 7-year-old was on a camping trip in Tennessee and was throwing up with a fever and side pain.
Caleb Tucker’s parents, Tarah and Ben, took him to an emergency room. An X-ray of his abdomen showed nothing, and the young family went on with vacation, with Caleb boating with his siblings.
Days later at home, he still was sick. No one else in the family was sick, so they ruled out food poisoning or an infection from camping.
Tarah suspected something about her little boy didn’t feel right. Doctors took blood work which showed a few small issues that didn’t cause concern.
He was diagnosed as anemic. Something still wasn’t right with Caleb.
Then Caleb developed another fever, which his mom said saved his life. They headed back to the doctor, and a few days later he was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor after the second doctor felt a lump in Caleb’s side and ordered tests.
“I truly believe it was God that gave him the fever,” Tarah said.
Wilms’ tumor is a cancer that typically occurs in children younger than Caleb and can encase the kidney, as it did in Caleb’s case. Caleb was six when he was diagnosed and is now seven.
The first-grader at Greenwood Christian Academy went through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. In February, he was able to ring the bell at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health that signaled that a child has finished cancer treatment.
But his days at Riley are not done.
The hospital decided that his infectious smile would compel people to buy license plates bearing the Riley name, with proceeds benefiting the hospital.
A photo of Caleb holding a Riley license plate is now on two billboards in the Indianapolis area. And he will be featured in commercials with Crew CarWash, who has a partnership with the Indianapolis hospital.
When Tarah first asked Caleb if he would like to be on a billboard for Riley, he agreed once he found out that the campaign is meant to help other sick kids.
“(I asked) will it help Riley and will it help the kids,” Caleb said. “I wanted to help the kids.”
Caleb has been cancer-free since his 25 weeks of treatment ended.
He lost his hair and had to be on anti-nausea medication to get him through chemotherapy. He lost a kidney, so he must always drink lots of water to help his body flush out toxins.
“If something happens to that kidney, we are in trouble,” Tarah said.
Caleb has resumed his typical life in Greenwood, playing with his younger siblings, Grace, 4, and Luke, 2, and playing video games.
He has regular check-ups, and if no cancer shows up in the next five years, he will be considered officially in remission. Now he hopes his billboards help others, he said.
Riley gave him a miniature version of his billboard. Motorists can see his promotion at Interstate 465 and Emerson Avenue and East Washington Street in Indianapolis.
The tumor that Caleb battled is more typical in children younger than him. Caleb said he believes there is a reason God gave him the cancer.
“It is good that I was older. It is easier for me to get through it,” he said.
A Greenwood child is helping encourage the public to buy a license plate that benefits Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
To buy a Riley plate, go to MyRileyPlate.org
The plate costs an additional $40.