By Chris Hendrickson
By his toothy grin and cheerful disposition, a person would never guess that 7-year-old Gavin Mayes has spent the last three years of his young life in a fierce battle with cancer.
It’s a battle that has finally come to an end, with Gavin emerging as the victor.
Now that things are looking up for Gavin, who is officially cancer free, he gets to have a little fun. Gavin was selected in February as the prestigious 2016 Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Sheriff for the Day, a biannual honor that celebrates the lives of kids who have been diagnosed with life-threatening or chronic illnesses. Sheriff for the Day is actually part of a state program, Chief for a Day, and includes a series of activities and events meant take the focus off the illness.
As part of the Sheriff for the Day honor, the sheriff’s office seeks to fulfill a specific need or want. In Gavin’s case, that just happened to be a dog.
Gavin lives in Monroe with his parents, Charlie and Ken, his older brother, Koen, 8, and younger siblings Lucy, 5, and Troy, 1. “Olive Happy Mayes,” Gavin’s 9-week-old purebred golden retriever puppy, was welcomed into their home on Saturday, Aug. 6.
Intended to be an emotional support companion dog for Gavin, Olive was funded entirely through donations solicited by Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office deputies Jon Barnett and Jeff Howerton. The Snohomish County Corrections Association pitched in $1,500, raised during a fundraiser barbecue and silent auction in July.
The Deputy Sheriffs Association donated $400, and additional donations came in from Sheriff Ty Trenary and his command staff.
In addition to purchasing Olive, the deputies raised enough money for birthday gifts for Gavin and a shopping spree at Sam’s Cats and Dogs, Naturally, where the family purchased a kennel, food and toys.
Gavin’s story touched hearts all over Monroe and the greater Snohomish County area. Diagnosed with pre B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2013, just before his fourth birthday, Monroe followed along as “Super Gavin” endured aggressive cancer treatment, including chemotherapy through an intravenous port on his chest, steroids, shots, numerous blood transfusions, lumbar punctures and bone marrow aspirates.
Charlie initially took her son to the doctor because she was concerned by persistent flu-like symptoms. Gavin’s condition continued to worsen, until they were told to take him to the emergency room at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Once diagnosed, he was transferred to the cancer ward where they stayed for around eight days.
ALL is a fast-growing cancer of the bone marrow that must be treated assertively.
“The goal with leukemia treatment is that they reach remission in the first month, so they do 29 days of really intense chemo and steroid treatments,” Charlie said. “It’s one of the hardest months.”
Once remission is reached, the remaining three-plus years of chemotherapy are to ensure the cancer doesn’t come back. If the treatment is unsuccessful, more extreme measures must be implemented. In Gavin’s case, he was able to achieve remission and move forward with his treatment.
ALL was the best of a bad situation, Charlie said.
“If you’re going to get leukemia, that’s the kind to get, and if you’re going to get it, it was the age that you want to get it at,” Charlie said. “It’s way treatable before you turn 10, and then it gets harder to beat.”
Gavin’s cancer treatment had unanticipated side effects. Just six months prior to his leukemia diagnosis, Gavin was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. He was three years old, and the diagnosis was not a surprise to Charlie and Ken. He was essentially nonverbal, Charlie said, struggled with human contact, loud noises and would only eat around six different things — a common indicator of autism.
He really didn’t start talking until after his cancer treatments began, Charlie said.
It was roughly two weeks into the chemotherapy, and Gavin was bloated, uncomfortable and cross from steroid treatments. Where in the past he might have uttered a word or two, he approached them, seemingly out of the blue, and rolled out a complete sentence.
“He came down and he was like, ‘I need help with my Hot Wheels,’” Charlie said. “It was this groundbreaking sentence.”
Two things began happening at once. As he was beating cancer, he was successfully finding ways to communicate.
Gavin got his chest port removed in April and took his final oral dose of chemotherapy drugs on May 17. Doctors worried that ending the treatment would be hard on Gavin, but it’s been transformational, Charlie said. He’s playful, interested in going outside and enjoys spending time with other kids in the neighborhood, she said.
“It’s just been so great to see his energy jump through the roof,” Charlie said.
Gavin was downright chatty last week, as he played in his backyard with Olive and his Skylanders action figures. He said he loves Olive, who he named after a character on the television show “Odd Squad.” At one point he breezed over to his mom as she relaxed in the grass, pausing in his play to give her a “lab draw.” For three years, two months and two days, Gavin was subjected to countless blood draws and medical procedures aimed at saving his life.
“For him, it’s just so normal,” Charlie said.
Because they qualified for the uncompensated care program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Mayes family received full coverage of Gavin’s medical expenses. Their gratitude is endless, Charlie said, not only to the hospital, but also to the blood donors who helped save Gavin’s life.
They were fearful of mental delays, Charlie said, but her son is smart and exceptional at math.
“It’s just amazing. He should have delays and doesn’t,” she said. “He’s doing better than he was before.”
Playful young Olive is the icing on the cake.
The dog will begin in-home training with a service called Got Sit in a few weeks, Charlie said.
“They’ll come to us and train Gavin and her together as a team,” she said. “I’m really excited about it.”
Olive will become an emotional support dog, to provide comfort to Gavin any time he feels overwhelmed or anxious. Once alerted, she will find Gavin wherever he is and place her head gently in his lap. Kids on the autism spectrum face anxiety and difficulties with sensory processing, and it has been discovered that pressure placed on an autistic child’s body during stress can have a soothing effect.
“He’ll have a remote, so every time he starts to have an anxiety attack or an autistic meltdown, he’ll click it and she’ll know to come and find him,” Charlie said.
Sheriff for the Day
Gavin was “sworn into office” by Trenary on March 18 at the Sheriff’s Office in Everett, where he signed an Oath of Office, was awarded an official certificate and given a badge proclaiming him Sheriff for the Day. He was allowed to sit at Trenary’s desk and was presented with cake and birthday gifts, since the event was held on his seventh birthday.
He was in the Everett Fourth of July parade, and on Saturday, Aug. 13, threw out the first pitch at the Everett AquaSox game.
The Mayes family will travel to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in Burien for a formal swearing in ceremony n Thursday, Aug. 18, including a day filled with law enforcement festivities. Gavin will be escorted to the event in a motorcade, and will enjoy presentations by K9 units, SWAT, bicycle patrols, rifle units and more.
He was even given an official Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office uniform, sized just for him.
But it’s been about more than experiences. For the Mayes family, it’s been an incredible opportunity to build lasting relationships.
Sheriff for the Day program facilitator Jon Barnett lived near the Mayes family and was alerted by another neighbor who felt that Gavin was a great candidate for the honor. In the past, Gavin hadn’t always enjoyed meeting new people, so Barnett worked to become a familiar, comforting presence in his life. It’s a relationship that has continued and strengthened.
“Deputy Barnett comes over probably once a week, maybe once every other week, just to spend time with him,” Charlie said.
Gavin started talking about how much he wanted a dog in February. His mother would ask him what he wanted for breakfast, to which Gavin would reply, “I’ll have some Captain Crunch and a dog named Poko, please.”
When Barnett caught wind of it, he knew it was something tangible that the sheriff’s office could do, so he set about making it happen. He and Howerton also sought other ways to help support the Mayes family, as they worked through the final few months of Gavin’s cancer therapy.
When the Mayes family moved from one part of Monroe to another in May, the sheriff’s office and corrections staff arrived to help them. Most of them she had never even met before, Charlie said, but they all showed up to lend a hand.
“It was really special,” she said.
The whole thing has been incredible, she said, adding that she and Ken are beyond grateful for the love and care they’ve received from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. Gavin has enjoyed the interaction, she said, and is currently excited about finding a way to take his younger sister to jail.
“The day I get my badge, I’m taking you in,” Gavin often tells her.
“Gavin and Lucy both want to be police officers or sheriffs someday. This is such a positive impact on them to see all the cool cars and the handcuffs and the lights,” Charlie said. “Barnett is here all the time, so they just idolize him and talk about him all the time.”
To learn more about Gavin’s journey, visit www.facebook.com/thesupergavin.
Photos by Chris Hendrickson Snohomish County SheriffGÇÖs Office Sheriff for the Day Gavin Mayes, 7, has enjoyed bonding with his new golden retriever puppy, Olive Happy Mayes. Olive will be trained as an emotional support companion for Gavin.Gavin and his new puppy Olive will begin joint training in a few weeks through Monroe dog training company, Got Sit.