A Warrior At Just 3 Years Old: Calvin Kam

And His Battle with Retinoblastoma


Chinwe Onwere, Staff Writer/Editor

At just three years old, Calvin Kam enjoys all the things that a regular child does. He has a bright, fun-loving personality, often being silly and jumping all over the furniture at his home (which I am sure Mrs. Kam enjoys!). Calvin’s favorite movies include the Pixar Cars trilogy and Toy Story, often lining up the cars in his living room table, and flying Buzz Lightyear through the air, or as Buzz Lightyear calls it: “This isn’t flying, this is falling with style!”

However, despite his young age, Calvin has been fighting an enormous battle that no child should have to face. Calvin was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the retina which causes symptoms of poor vision, pain from pressure, and a yellow mass or glow seen in the pupil. Retinoblastoma is an extremely rare cancer and only affects 300 children living in the United States, compared to the 23.6 million  children ages 0 to 5 in the country. Because retinoblastoma often spreads rapidly, early diagnosis is important to successfully treating it.

“We noticed something weird happening with his eye towards the end of June. It had a weird glean to it, kind of like what you see in cats and dogs when their eyes catch the light,” Mrs. Kam explained.

Calvin’s eye

“It was like the pupil was bigger and slightly gold looking. We took him to an optometrist, who went through the regular process of an eye exam, but then said he couldn’t see the retina in Calvin’s left eye. He called in another optometrist from the practice to take a look as well (not a great sign), then referred us to a children’s ophthalmologist, who we met with the following day,” Mrs. Kam said.

“This was the first time we realized something was really wrong. After dilating Calvin’s eyes and doing a more in-depth exam, the ophthalmologist said she thought it was likely either Coat’s disease or retinoblastoma. Long story short, we met with the optometrist on a Monday, and by that Friday, we were at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and Calvin was having an exam under anesthesia by an ocular oncologist to determine if it was retinoblastoma-which it was. The tumor size of retinoblastoma ranges from A (the smallest) to E (the largest). Calvin’s tumor fell in the E category.”

Calvin has had to undergo extensive procedures-including three arterial chemotherapy treatments. During these treatments, doctors inject the chemo directly from an artery on the back of his leg to his eye, which will occur seven times. He has also undergone intravitreal chemotherapy treatment, where chemo is injected directly into his eye, which will continue for once a month for about a year.

Calvin going in for his most recent procedure at Children’s Hospital Colorado while sporting his superman cape

Even though he may be small in size, Calvin possesses immense strength and determination. Because these treatments are targeted, Calvin is often still energized and playful, although he is not going to school currently due to his compromised immune system. However, things are hopeful, as retinoblastoma is an extremely curable cancer. In fact, 96% of children in the US that have it fully recover.

“We are very lucky to be at Children’s Hospital Colorado. The above treatments require a whole team of doctors- an oncologist, a neurosurgeon, and ophthalmologist, an anesthesiologist…only about 10 children’s hospitals in the country have this capability. If we were located somewhere else, they may have just removed his eye completely. The targeted treatment Calvin receives means that the side effects he has from chemotherapy are very minimal,” Mrs. Kam stated. 

Many individuals have supported the Kam family by sending meals and cards to help. You can also support by donating to organizations such as St. Jude, which specializes in childhood cancer research and development. Mrs. Kam also wants to students to understand her circumstances when she is back teaching at Holy Family, as she won’t be always available due to Calvin’s procedures. 

Calvin, we are all rooting for you!

Calvin at the Denver Zoo!