September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day I will feature a different guest blogger who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer. Stories are always more potent than statistics. The hope is that by learning about children with cancer, readers will be more invested in turning their awareness into action.
By Melina Brown
In August 2004, life was looking up for me and my children. I was nearing the end of a long divorce process, I had just saved up enough money to move into a new place and my kids were healthy, beautiful and thriving.
My middle child, Levi, age 4, began having some headaches that summer. Nothing too bad, just enough to worry his Momma. I took him to his pediatrician, who diagnosed him with a sinus infection and prescribed some amoxicillin. When the headaches continued, I took him back and he received a stronger antibiotic.
I point blank asked his doctor “Could he have a brain tumor?” (partially because my grandmother had passed away from a brain tumor just hours after she was found unresponsive in her apartment and partially because I am a grade A worrywart). I was assured that of course it was not a brain tumor – he would have many more symptoms than a few headaches!
Fast forward two weeks – my sweet Levi lay in a bed in PICU, diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor that had already spread to his spine. A follow up visit to another pediatrician ended up being a 4 week hospital stay – two weeks in PICU and two weeks on the pediatric floor. The surgery to remove his tumor left him mute and paralyzed. All he could do was scream and scream and scream. I cannot even begin to imagine how scared my baby was. A long year of treatment was planned – six weeks of radiation to his brain and spine, followed by harsh chemotherapy.
Of course, my first thought was of Levi and his fight. But soon after, other worries began creeping in. Who would take care of my other children? How would I pay my bills? My house was half packed – how would we get moved and unpacked before Levi’s treatments would begin? My car was a 10 year old wreck that needed new tires, would it last the 50 mile daily trip to Levi’s radiation treatments?
When I look back, what stands out the most is the kindness of people. We hear all the time how the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but I have found that people are truly good, for the most part:
- My babysitter kept my two year old daughter Kayleigh for two weeks for no pay while Levi was hospitalized. My parents kept her the next two weeks.
- My son Ethan, who was 10, moved in with his friend’s parents for the entire month of September. They took care of him like he was their own child (and still do!).
- My high school friend, who saw me at the gas station, crying hysterically, the night Levi was diagnosed (I had ran home for some clothes). She rounded up two other best friends from high school and they stayed with me the entire day while Levi was in surgery.
- My friend who came to my new home and unpacked boxes for me.
- The sweet lady who was going through radiation at the same time as Levi, who brought him a different toy every single day.
- The senior citizen at Hardee’s who came over to talk to us one morning after Levi finished his radiation treatment. He asked if Levi was sunburned and when I explained that it was damage from radiation to treat his brain cancer, he cried and prayed for Levi right there at our table.
- The stranger who walked up to us one day in McDonald’s and gave me $20 to pay for our meal.
- Our pharmacist/friend , who paid to have my car fixed and showed up every few weeks with diapers, toiletries, and other goodies from Sam’s Club – all while she was fighting cancer herself.
- My ex-husband’s former boss, who brought us a dump truck load of gravel to extend our driveway, so I didn’t have to carry Levi through the mud and snow that winter.
- The newspaper reporter who wrote an article about Levi while he was still in PICU. This story resulted in enough donations to allow me to stay home with Levi throughout his entire year of treatment.
- The DMV clerk who insisted on paying for our handicap decal.
Levi is now 13 years old. He loves PlayStation and pizza. He attends a school for children with learning disabilities and was held back two years. He has relearned everything he lost, with the exception of jumping on one foot, but he’s working on that. For the past three years, he has won the “Most Kind to Others” award at the end of the school year. I would say he learned that the best way possible – by example.
Melina, Levi’s Mom, is one of the original St. Baldrick’s “46 Shave for the Brave” Moms — all women whose children were diagnosed with cancer. In September 2010 Melina appeared on the nationally televised Stand Up 2 Cancer event with her newly shorn head. She organizes an annual St. Baldrick’s event with the support of the Virgina Tech Hokies. You can find her fundraising page here.
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