12/20/17 — Ringing in recovery

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Ringing in recovery

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on December 20, 2017 5:50 AM


Dillyn Hamilton, 5, has a tickle fight with his mother, Suzy, at their home on Friday before celebrating the end of his three-year battle with cancer on Monday. Suzy says Dillyn's energy levels have increased noticeably toward the end of his treatment.

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Five-year-old Dillyn Hamilton rings the bell at Vidant Medical Center after his final treatment Monday.

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Dillyn Hamilton, 5, plays with his brother Jaxson, 1, Friday at their family's home. Dillyn rang the bell Monday in Greenville at Vidant's Children's Hospital to celebrate the end of his three-year battle with cancer.

Dillyn Hamilton doesn't know how to act with all of his newly found energy.

The 5-year-old zips through the house, hiding his Mr. Potato Head from his mother before immediately telling her where it is, giggling and scampering away.

Dillyn speaks at 90 miles a minute; he wants to play catch -- no, now with his truck -- no, wait, he wants to jump from his tiny couch to his child-sized bean bag.

It's a stark contrast from the past several years.

He used to be so lethargic he would creep backward down a set of stairs, even if it was only a slight step down.

At only a few years old, he was completely bald.

And he spent most of his time in the hospital.

Dillyn was diagnosed with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Sept. 13, 2014, at only 2 years old.

On Monday, Dillyn received his last treatment for the disease that has gripped his toddler years and his family's life for more than three years now. As he said, he got to "ring the bell" -- a symbolic gesture Dillyn performed that marked the end of his treatment.

"It's just great. It's great and crazy all at the same time," said Suzy, Dillyn's mother, at the family's home on Thursday. "You think of a three-and-a-half-year treatment plan, and it feels like yesterday when he was diagnosed. And then time stands still for a very, very long time. And now we're four days away, and it felt like it was never going to get here."


The Hamilton family's ordeal started with a rash -- common enough on most children, but in this case it was a sign of a long road ahead for Dillyn.

Suzy took her son to have his rash checked on Sept. 12, 2014. The doctors at Goldsboro Pediatrics saw it then for the first time.

The rash was a result of an extremely low platelet count -- so low the test came back with only pound signs -- that signaled to the doctors a clear diagnosis: childhood leukemia.

Dillyn's white blood cell count when he was first seen was 220,000 -- the normal range is 5,000 to 10,000.

Dillyn and Suzy spent the next 11 days at Vidant Children's Hospital in Greenville. They would return frequently for the next several years.

"It's strange how your whole world changes, and now it's all about to change again," Suzy said. "Your whole norm is different, and now, coming to the end of it, it's almost like -- how do you react to things now?"

The community showed an outpouring of support for the family after Dillyn's diagnosis. Suzy was a bartender at Heroes Sports Oyster Bar and Grill at the time of his diagnosis, and was well-known among the establishment's regulars.

Since then, the community has held toy runs, head-shaving fundraisers and done much, much more to show their support for the little-tike-that-could.

"I couldn't have asked for better support from everybody," Suzy said.

Other than not going to intense treatments, Suzy likely won't have to worry every time Dillyn gets a sniffle or a cough or a high temperature now.

She won't have to think about whether or not other kids around him are sickly and how that might affect his weakened immune system because of leukemia.

And she won't have to make any sudden trips to the hospital wondering how long the stay will be this time.

Dillyn will get to be a kid again, and he is excited.

"He's always done really good. I've always just tried to make it seem like it was normal life for him," Suzy said. "He doesn't really know any different, but he also knows it's strange. He's one of the smartest kids I've ever met. He knows when he's supposed to take his medications, and he knows the names of the medications."


Dillyn won't have to take any more medication after Dec. 30, and he will only need to go back once a month for checkups.

His energy levels began increasing within the last month, and now he's a ball of fire lighting up his family's life with his quick smile and contagious laugh.

And after a long-fought battle, the Hamiltons are ready for their new normal.

"Any time I tell people it's his last treatment I get chills everywhere," Suzy said. "It's a bittersweet feeling. It's scary to see what comes next, and it's scary to have to now start worrying where his counts are going to be and whether they're going to tell us bad news. But we're going to keep taking everything day by day like we have."