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Yellowknife grieves as six-year-old Malcolm Austin passes away

Malcolm Austin, the Yellowknife boy who spent a year living with a rare form of cancer, has passed away.

Malcolm was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer on October 1, 2014 – his sixth birthday.

Last fall, the City of Yellowknife declared November 30 to be Malcolm Austin Day. In February, father Andrew described the cancer as “devastating emotionally, not to mention physically for our child”.

Malcolm leaves behind Andrew and mother Kim alongside identical twin brother Lachlan and sister Maggie.

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“Today we grieve with the Austin family of Yellowknife as they mourn their son and brother Malcolm,” said a statement from the city’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church on Tuesday.

Caitlin Cleveland, a Yellowknife photographer who grew close to the family, wrote: “Today our tiny town is surrounding a very special family with love as many near and far mourn the loss of one of Yellowknife’s star residents: The Incredible Malcolm.”

Background: Basic facts about the DIPG form of brain tumour

Andrew Austin, writing on Twitter, had called Monday “a very black day” for the family. As news of Malcolm’s passing spread on Tuesday, hundreds of Yellowknifers sent messages of condolence and changed their online profile images in tribute.

“You will be dearly missed by all of Yellowknife,” read a note from resident Michelle Loyer. “You stole our hearts with your smile.”

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“I’m so sorry for his whole family,” wrote Beth Covvey. “You all worked so hard to give him love and experiences.”

Austin family
The Austin family – Maggie, Andrew, Kim and twin brothers Malcolm and Lachlan. Photo: Wendy Feil.

While receiving treatment, Malcolm was the guest of honour at February’s annual Memorial Hockey Challenge between Yellowknife’s firefighters and RCMP members.

He also had the opportunity to meet the Edmonton Oilers at a hockey game last October, shortly after receiving his diagnosis, while city residents rallied to support the family financially over the course of the year.

February 2015: For a family coping with cancer, why a hockey game matters

“It’s been interesting to see our lives shift to people who are in need of assistance,” Kim Austin said earlier this year.

“As soon as we’re out in public, people want to come up and give us comfort, and say they’re thinking about us, which is awesome and greatly appreciated.

“But sometimes we say it feels like our ‘surreal life’. Because, you know, we would trade all of this – of course – in a heartbeat to have Malcolm healthy.”

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His parents said Malcolm had taken symptoms like vomiting, choking and insomnia “in his stride” despite his young age.

Malcolm’s condition – diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG – is a tumour in the lower back of the brain. Doctors describe DIPG as both extremely rare and difficult to treat.

The cancer typically strikes between the ages of five and seven, and has a reported zero percent survival rate.

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