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Winnipeg family remembers 'awesome little guy' with birthday party toy drive for kids with cancer

Brody Birrell-Gruhn would have turned five years old on Monday.

Brody Birrell-Gruhn was three years old when he died in 2015 from a rare form of childhood cancer.

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Brody Birrell-Gruhn was three years old when he died in 2015 from a rare form of childhood cancer.

Monday marks what would have been Brody Birrell-Gruhn’s fifth birthday.

The three-year-old Winnipeg boy died on Sept. 1, 2015 from a rare form of childhood cancer he likely had since birth. On Dec. 24, 2014, he was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma at age two. Doctors found 50 per cent of his head and neck were covered by a tumour.

His mom’s sister, aunt Sheena Gruhn, said the family wants to keep sharing Brody’s story in hopes other kids may be diagnosed sooner.

Brody Birrell-Gruhn with mom Tori Gruhn.

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Brody Birrell-Gruhn with mom Tori Gruhn.

"I think if Brody was diagnosed when he was maybe one, he’d still be here today. But then we might not be doing what we’re doing. It’s kind of like a collateral beauty, right?" she told Metro Friday.

Rather than curl up and grieve, his family is organizing Brody’s fifth birthday party—a toy drive—at Earl Grey Community Centre (360 Cockburn St N) on Monday at 6 p.m.

Friends, family and strangers are invited to come drop off toys, gift cards, board games, craft kits, books and more to be donated to children getting treatment at CancerCare Manitoba. There will also be pizza, cake and a balloon release where guests sing 'Happy Birthday.'

"I wanted (Brody’s birthday) to not be such a painful day," Gruhn said. "I mean, it’s going to be anyway, but I think surrounded by friends and family and all of our supporters that it just makes it a little bit easier knowing that we’re doing something positive instead of just sitting around."

Brody was a "collector," his aunt said, with an affinity for small toys and figurines. Dozens of photos and video posted on teambrody.ca show off the young boy’s love of superhero costumes, pulling funny faces and telling family he loved them, too.

Brody Birrell-Gruhn wearing a slick superhero suit.

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Brody Birrell-Gruhn wearing a slick superhero suit.

"He was just such a selfless, loving, crazy kid. Like any other kid, but at three years old, he had grown up so much just from going to his treatments that he would see another sick kid and he would actually tear up and say, 'I don’t want them to be sick,'" Gruhn remembered. "Just an awesome, awesome little guy."

Brody’s family has incorporated Team Brody Foundation and has plans for more fundraisers over the coming year, including a ball hockey tournament July 22 and paint party Sept. 8.

They also reach out to other families whose kids have cancer, offering emotional and financial support through the foundation. 

Dad Jordan Birrell with son Brody Birrell-Gruhn.

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Dad Jordan Birrell with son Brody Birrell-Gruhn.

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