- Family, Friends, and Cancer:The Overwhelming Effects of Brain Cancer on a Child’s Life
Our son was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma at the old age of 13. The “lucky” part for him was his brain was almost fully developed at this age as opposed to most “medullo” patients. While this was a benefit to him it was also one of the hardest things for him.
He went into surgery a highly intelligent, active, and left handed boy and came out unable to move his left side, could barely speak, and very much aware of what he just lost. We, as a family, were totally unprepared for how globally this would [End Page 23] affect the rest of his life. As we spent time in the hospital I would look at the children with other types of cancer and see them walking and talking and doing their schoolwork and God forgive me I would be jealous. The fact that the cancer was in his brain, the part of his body that makes him who he is changed everything forever.
He lost all of his friends because 13–year–old boys communicate best through physical activity and that was not an option for him. He still has the same personality and sense of humor, but he will not be the architect or engineer he once dreamed of being. Math, that was once so easy for him was now like a foreign language, never to be mastered again. He was able to graduate from High School and takes classes at our local Junior College in Computer Assisted Drafting, but he can only manage one or two classes a semester due to the fatigue he still suffers from.
What I most worry about and wish I had been forewarned about is his long–term quality of life. Physically he has come such a long way from how he was after the resection. It was a very slow process in which the first year of rehab was slowed by the fact that one of the chemo agents causes peripheral neuropathy. He developed contractures in his ankles and needed serial casting and ankle–foot orthotics (AFO) not just on the left leg, but now the right. He was able to switch his handedness fairly easily and his left hand will always be of limited usefulness because of ataxia. I would get angry at him that he gave up on his left side so quickly until it was finally explained to me years later that the ataxia would never get better.
As far as his walking ability goes he has come a long way. At first he was unable to walk and once he started rehab he went back to learning to crawl and progressed to a walker. The first time I saw him walk with the walker brought tears to my eyes. It was so much more of an event for me than when he took his first steps as a toddler. This was so much more hard fought. He never complained, just always did what was asked of him. It had to have been such hard work and also somewhat embarrassing, as he needed help to literally do everything for months. He progressed to a cane and about two years ago decided not to use that or his AFO’s. He now wears high top boots that substitute for the AFO’s but don’t make him appear disabled. Recently he decided there are times when he would be safer if he had his cane and purchased one that looks more like a hiking stick than a cane. I think he has come to terms with the fact that physically he is as good as he is going to get and works hard to maintain what he did regain. He has a trainer and goes to the gym on a regular basis with no prompting from us. I do not know if he realizes that as he ages things will be harder for him than the average person. I think in some way he is aware of that because he did decided to use the cane if safety is an issue.