Harrison Gilks of Fredericton sparked a movement of hope and adventure in the final months of his life, ticking off “bucket list” items with the help of community support as he fought cancer.
The 18-year-old, who had more than 300,000 followers on his TikTok for his series, died Thursday.
In the last eight months, Harrison’s local community raised money in support of his final wishes that included a helicopter ride in New York City and Jasper, Alta., meeting players from the Montreal Canadiens, attending a Los Angeles Rams football game and sunning himself in Mexico.
Harrison’s final TikTok video was posted on March 21. He announced he didn’t have much time left and his series was over.
“It’s been a great ride with you guys on the bucket list series … bucket list complete,” he said.
Trevor Gilks said his son will be remembered for his big heart, social spirit, love for sports and his will to never give up.
He said getting to take Harrison on all of his final adventures was both special and emotional. The family knew Harrison was experiencing a lot of “firsts and lasts.”
“Every time there was something that would put a big grin on his face and you could tell in that moment he forgot about cancer,” said Gilks.
“You see those moments and it’s all worth it.”
Harrison was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in November 2020.
He had a large tumour in his prostate area and spots on his lungs, said Gilks. He underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation.
By February 2022, he was showing signs of remission. “We packed up then and went for a couple of vacations down south to celebrate,” said Gilks.
Just a couple months later, the cancer came back stronger than before. The family was told Harrison was considered terminal.
Gilks said that’s when Harrison decided to start his series.
Harrison posted a video on TikTok announcing his terminal diagnosis in June, which went viral with 1.5 million likes.
Gilks said he and his wife, Sonya, were willing to make any of Harrison’s final wishes come true, but the community’s efforts removed that financial burden.
“It’s like a whole community looked after making this possible,” he said. “That’s what chokes me up the most, having strangers wanting to be a part of it.
“Until this we were pretty private and stubborn. We wanted to do everything on our own. But it was quite remarkable to watch people step up.”
Gilks said the community came together far and wide to offer donations and experiences.
Jake Allen, a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens who is from Fredericton, arranged for Harrison to sit on the bench during a game.
“All the players came over to talk with me,” Harrison said in a TikTok video. “It was pretty cool.”
Harrison then began receiving other ticket donations for games, including the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors.
“Next thing you know he’s in the dressing room again or he’s meeting players,” said Gilks.
Harrison played just about every sport, said Gilks, and one of the hardest parts about his condition was not being able to play.
He said whenever Harrison was feeling sad he would make a video to post online. The outpouring of love would make him happy.
Community support has continued after Harrison’s death.
More than 1,600 people took part in an event called Sticks Out for Harrison, where they posted photos and videos of hockey sticks placed on their front step in support.