Unable to travel, this boy with cancer is seeing the world through postcards

All his life, Zac Connolly dreamed of seeing Europe.

The 11-year-old is living with fourth-stage neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, his family had been hoping to take him on a trip to Northern Europe, but the pandemic has made that impossible.

“We were expecting to be able to continue our treatment until he started feeling a little bit better, and then we could take the trip at any time,” Angela Connolly, Zac’s mother, told CBC’s Maritime Noon.

“Unfortunately, when we were told his treatment was no longer working … at that time, COVID had already started, and the world had shut down.”

So his family decided to satisfy his wanderlust in a different way: by putting a call out for postcards from around the world.

Connolly said her son is staying strong through his illness. (Angela Connolly)

It started with Zac’s grandfather, who works with some people from Europe. He began asking them to send him postcards.

Then, last week, Zac’s grandmother made a post on Facebook asking for postcards, and things took off from there. The post had amassed hundreds of comments and nearly 5,000 shares as of Thursday afternoon. 

To keep up with all the messages they’ve been getting, the family decided to create a Facebook page for the people who wanted to send him their best wishes.

Connolly said the response has been “overwhelming,” and they’ve received cards, pictures, videos and messages from around the world — not just Europe. Zac has also received messages of support from other people who have lived with cancer.

“People just keep sending these wonderful things,” said Connolly. “It’s incredible. It really, really is incredible.”

‘He’s just so inspirational’

Zac was first diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was two. He managed to beat the disease, but he relapsed last fall.

“Unfortunately, neuroblastoma is a beast,” said Connolly. “We’ve been fighting the fight of our lives since then … it’s a really nasty, nasty cancer.”

At this point, the disease has spread everywhere in Zac’s body.

Connolly says her son has a keen interest in world history, geography and the Second World War. (Angela Connolly)

Despite his illness, Connolly said her son has remained strong through the ordeal.

“He’s remarkable. Since he was two years old, we’ve always said he was stoic,” she said.

“He’s always smiling, and he’s just so inspirational. He’s always looking for a joy in every day, and trying to make sure he puts a smile on our faces.”

Response ‘brings a smile to his face’

It’s clear Zac’s story has touched many people from across the world. Jeff Sehl, a 29-year-old Canadian living in Geneva is one of them.

As soon as Sehl read about Zac’s story on social media, he decided to send him five postcards filled with stories about him and Zac travelling together through Switzerland, seeing snow-capped mountains, forests, and castles.

“He probably wants to mentally escape and be taken somewhere, so I wanted to create something a little bit fuller, and help create a little bit of a story and bring him along on an adventure,” said Sehl.

He included a couple of goodies as well, like a stuffed St. Bernard dog and Swiss chocolate. The package is still in the mail.

Jeff Sehl, 29, who lives in Switzerland, was touched by Zac’s story and decided to mail him some goodies. (Submitted by Jeff Sehl)

Sehl said it’s amazing to see people from all over the world rally around a little boy in Nova Scotia.

“It’s such a beautiful time for people to come together,” he said. 

“Right now we’re facing a crisis that’s really trying for everyone, and I think if people can really just go out of their way to try to make a difference in one person’s life … I think that’s a really great thing.”

As for Zac, Connolly said he appreciates all the love and attention he’s getting. 

“He didn’t expect any of this. He was shocked, especially since it’s gone worldwide,” she said.

“He feels like he’s making a difference in the world, and that really brings a smile to his face and joy to my heart.”


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