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I’m Possible: A Pediatric Brain Tumor Patient and Hero

Our family was no stranger to cancer. My mother fought with it, five times throughout her life, before it finally took her from us. It still makes my stomach do flips. My father-in-law is constantly battling the skin cancer that loves to attack fair-skinned redheads. Yet, to have our son diagnosed with a brain tumor was almost indescribable.

Imagine your child waking up on Christmas morning with a headache and then vomiting. “Oh no, a virus on Christmas,” you might assume, as we did. “Poor guy!” The headache and vomiting went away…but only until the NEXT morning. On the fourth morning of these symptoms, Teyton proclaimed he would rather have a broken leg than a headache that hurt this much, so I made a call into our pediatrician, who incidentally was an ER physician at a Children’s Hospital before going into private practice.

He sent us to the hospital and said he would “call ahead.” Not expecting anything other than fluids and Tylenol, I took Teyton in. I didn’t even suspect anything when they said an MRI had been ordered. I guess I really had no idea what they might be looking for. I certainly wasn’t prepared to hear what the resident said to my child in front of me: “You have a mass in your brain, Teyton.”

I was sent into a tailspin of protecting my child from these words while I tried to process them in my own head. I frantically called my husband and only shared that Teyton had a “mass” and that he had to pack up our 8-year-old and come meet us at the hospital ASAP. When he arrived, it took a bit to unravel everything, but it soon became clear that Teyton needed surgery, immediately, to relieve the pressure on his brain from fluid build-up caused by the tumor blocking his brain’s ventricles. The reason for the serve headaches was no longer a mystery.

The weeks that followed were filled with bouts of fear and panic; strong-willed efforts to maintain some calm in our lives; helping Teyton and our younger son, Hobie, through this precarious new reality; accepting care and support from friends and family; and figuring out the next steps to fight this disease that had turned our lives upside down and inside out.

The weeks that followed were filled with bouts of fear and panic; strong-willed efforts to maintain some calm in our lives; helping Teyton and our younger son, Hobie, through this precarious new reality; accepting care and support from friends and family; and figuring out the next steps to fight this disease that had turned our lives upside down and inside out.

The biopsy revealed that the mass was a mixed-germ cell tumor made up of both benign cells and malignant cancer cells. Teyton began chemotherapy treatments at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and although the malignant cells responded to treatment, the benign cells continued to grow. After only two cycles of chemo, Teyton needed surgery to remove the tumor from the center of his brain. Thankfully, the entire tumor was removed. But the ventricles did not re-open, so Teyton was continuing to suffer all the effects of hydrocephalus (swelling from fluid build-up): pain, irritability, and disorientation. The next seven days in the pediatric intensive care unit was the darkest time for us.

After several more scans and procedures, a second surgery was performed to insert a shunt into Teyton’s head to drain the fluid. Teyton quickly turned a corner and even defied the ICU physicians by going home early.

We didn’t have time to rejoice in his recovery, however. It was imperative to treat the cancer aggressively, so Teyton resumed chemo immediately. After four more cycles, Teyton “graduated” to proton therapy.

We tried to make it like going to camp since it took 30 days of his summer vacation. We played games, brought friends along, and took small field trips in Philadelphia.

Throughout his ordeal, Teyton was incredibly kind and caring toward his nurses and doctors; complimenting them on how well they did a procedure, thanking them for taking care of him, and asking them how they were doing. When he saw a young child in the waiting room at the oncology clinic he would smile at them and say, “Hey, buddy,” so they would relax and not be worried about what was happening to them.

Throughout his ordeal, Teyton was incredibly kind and caring toward his nurses and doctors; complimenting them on how well they did a procedure, thanking them for taking care of him, and asking them how they were doing.

Teyton taught us so much about life and love and grace. Although we wish this had never ever happened to him, we could not be prouder of the way he handled himself and treated others throughout his treatment and recovery. That has extended to him sharing his story and making sure people know about brain cancer and seeing that measures are taken to find a cure.

When we found out about the National Brain Tumor Society we couldn’t believe it! National Brain Tumor Society is focused on finding new treatments and a cure for all brain tumors and offering a supportive community to those who have had similar experiences, as well as their families.

Meeting others who have gone through the same or similar experiences offers an understanding that goes beyond words. We can see Teyton connecting with other survivors at the annual walks, simply by standing with them and receiving the love and support shared by the crowd. We know that Teyton has benefitted from the opportunity to acknowledge his own experience and lend his voice in service to others.

Teyton has always been a compassionate and empathetic soul, but having survived cancer only magnifies that. He looks out for his teammates on the soccer field, welcomes newcomers, takes tremendous care of his younger brother, and is always letting us, his parents, know, “It’s OK. I’m OK.”

The truth is Teyton is more than OK…he is our hero.

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