As you sit at your son’s baseball game watching him up to bat smiling and laughing with friends, as you sew the patches on his cub scout uniform or peek into his room to see him playing with his Star Wars figures, you are full, content and thankful. Our life was the ordinary, just going by as the days do. I guess you could even say that as many of us do, we just took our seemingly perfect life, our perfect family, all our blessings for granted. And in a heart beat, a breath that you don’t want to have to take, it all changed for our amazingly blessed ordinary family.
Our son, Brandon came into our lives in March 1973. He quickly grew into this smiley fun toddler who filled our hearts more than we thought was possible. He became a big brother to his two little sisters he adored, watched over, and played with. He had a love of school and aspired to do well, was a good student and easily made some special friends. He enjoyed our family trips to the beach, swimming, family picnics and holidays filled with family.
When your child comes to you and says he is seeing double, what do you make of it? We contacted his pediatrician who referred us to an eye doctor who was unable to come up with an explanation or cause. Our pediatrician told us we needed to take him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to try and determine the cause of the double vision. The following morning we found ourselves meeting with the head neurosurgeon of the hospital. He told us he was going to send Brandon over to The University of Pennsylvania to have a CAT Scan, this new technology that would take an inside look at his brain, then would return to review the results with us. Waiting during that scan seemed like a lifetime and somewhere inside I had this awful sick feeling while recalling the events of the past weeks….was that flu really the flu, the one with the awful headache and vomiting or was it something else much more serious…was that all a part of what ended us up in this waiting room with our 9 year old son in a scan machine?
As we sat once more in front of this surgeon and he spoke the words, “your son has a brain tumor”…you just sit there paralyzed, trying to take in all the information this head neurosurgeon of this immensely large hospital is trying to tell you, but all you hear is that your son will be having surgery on his brain the next day on his 10th birthday. We sat in a numb silence the next day while he had the surgery, his father and I…praying and praying for good news to come. We didn’t receive the news we had so longed to hear. Instead we heard, “malignant tumor”, “this will be a real fight”, “your son”…we didn’t want any of those words. That weekend was filled with family and a birthday celebration in his hospital room. His charming smile soon had all the staff and nurses’ hearts melting…and he became one of their beloved patients.
When you watch your child face something like this head on, upbeat and smiling, you wonder where the strength comes from. Brandon would quietly tolerate whatever the nurses had to do and thank them at the end. We went to lengths to ensure his healing with weeks of radiation, chemotherapy, diets and natural supplements. Traveling to CHOP for treatments became the new normal instead of watching him play baseball. But Brandon seemed to have a fan club no matter where he went. He was a famous little guy down at CHOP, and when staff found out he was at clinic they would show up to say hello. The medical secretary who worked with Brandon’s neurosurgeon became extremely attached to him. His favorite nurse gave him a leprechaun pin to wear on his pajamas for good luck! Whenever a problem would come up at home that required us to travel back to CHOP he always wanted to stop on the oncology floor to visit his favorite nurses.
Repeat scans confirmed that even through all the treatments the tumor had continued to grow and Brandon would be faced with another surgery. Unfortunately, that surgery was unsuccessful in being able to remove the entire tumor, and we were faced with the grim news that there was no way to ever be able to remove this cancer from him. I can’t begin to express the courage and amazing attitude Brandon kept throughout this ongoing medical ordeal he was living as a 10 year old boy.
As a mom, one of the hardest things is having your family divided…feeling the pull between being with your sick child and knowing your other children still need you at home. I remain so thankful for my husband who is the most amazing father, who cared for our daughters while I was gone, even making sure they were all dressed up and pretty with their hair done before their visits to CHOP to see Brandon and I. Our family came together to be with the girls when the two of us couldn’t, so special for us to know they were being loved on in our absence.
16 months after our first trip to CHOP, God called the son home he had entrusted to us while he was here. It seems like a lifetime ago, it seems like a day ago…but the emptiness in our hearts remains the same, only to be filled with memories of his smile, laugh, love of his family and friends. We could not have had 11 years more blessed than we had with Brandon as our son. We will forever be thankful for the time God allowed him to be in our lives.
During this month of Pediatric Cancer Awareness, my hope and prayers are with all the children and their families who are fighting this difficult battle. I am filled with hope however, as I personally know a family who’s daughter has survived a brain tumor much the same as Brandon had. And my great nephew has overcome his battle with childhood leukemia. I believe it is extremely important to hold onto this hope. To keep awareness going and to keep our faith that one day there will be a cure for all God’s children, because no one, especially a child should ever have to endure such suffering.
*One of my mother’s desires has always been for people to know who Brandon was. To not forget him, and to freely speak of the good times we all had with him. As my gift to her, if you personally knew him, would you leave your favorite memory of him in the comments section below please? *
If you would like to make a donation in Brandon’s memory, you may do so here … Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. FizlDizl is pleased to give back to our local community by donating a portion of the proceeds from the sales of this bracelet to The Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley– sometimes we all need the reminder that we are not alone. Click the photo to place your order.