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St. Jude has given Aaron and his dad a new outlook on life.
When Aaron’s father learned his 4-year-old son had a brain tumor, he was stationed on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Persian Gulf. By the time the United States Navy lieutenant commander made it back home — amazingly, within 40 hours of receiving the news — Aaron had already undergone emergency surgery in a local hospital to remove the tumor.
“When I was deployed six months before, Aaron was a little boy full of energy,” remembered his dad. “When I got back, he was hooked up to all these tubes. His face was swollen. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t walk.”
The diagnosis was medulloblastoma, an aggressive cancer that can recur. Aaron’s doctors advised his parents that their child was unlikely to live more than six months to a year.
|Aaron’s family obtained a referral to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude has the largest pediatric brain tumor research program in the country and the world’s best survival rates. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent since opening 52 years ago.||
Aaron, during treatment, with his dad
At St. Jude, Aaron underwent a second brain surgery to remove residual tumor. He then began a treatment program that included 31 rounds of radiation therapy and four rounds of chemotherapy.
Temporarily reassigned to a military base in Tennessee, Aaron’s dad was able to stay by his son’s side during the months of treatment. At St. Jude, families never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.
A reason to celebrate
Last month, Aaron and his dad returned to St. Jude for a milestone visit: Aaron's one-year anniversary of being off treatment.
"So far, he’s completely free of any cancer,” affirms his dad.
Aaron has come a long way. “He’s playing T-ball and running the bases,” says his dad. “He’s back to coloring and writing his name. He’s got hair. Actually, when his hair grew in, he got upset because he didn’t look like Dad anymore. Since treatment, he’s blossomed. That’s the best word I can use."
Something has flowered for Aaron’s dad as well: a different perspective has opened up. “I wake up every day like it’s Christmas,” he says. “Every day is a gift. Just seeing Aaron interact with his siblings or play with the dog — something as simple as that — you soak it in, you notice it.”
“At home, they gave him six to 12 months to live, and that was August 2012,” he continues. “We’re months past that. St. Jude gives hope to the hopeless. To give a child’s life back? It’s miraculous. I can’t thank them enough.”
Aaron still comes back to St. Jude for checkups every three months. He calls St. Jude his “other house” and loves visiting his favorite playrooms whenever he’s here. But he must remain cancer-free for five years before his doctors will deem him out of the woods. “In a day of instant gratification, it’s not very instant,” admits his dad.
But for Aaron’s dad, today — like every day — is a day to love watching his young son play and grow. Tonight they plan to get out and ride the trolley car to the pizza place. But if it rains, says Aaron’s dad, they still will have had today.
And today is a celebration.