Sometimes illness presents with distinct symptoms, but at times, it presents in a voice no louder than a whisper.
When toddler Mark wasn’t yet 2 years old, he developed a slight limp. His mother, Rita, was concerned and took Mark to get a checkup. “The doctor didn’t believe anything was wrong,” said Rita. “But I told him, ‘You’re a doctor, but I’m a mom. And I know he isn’t getting any better.’”
Fortunately, their doctor listened to Rita and referred her to a specialist. After performing a CT scan, the doctor found a tumor in Mark’s head. He was sent to a local hospital and underwent three separate brain surgeries.
“The neurosurgeon did a great job because she removed the entire tumor,” explained Rita. “But they thought it was a brain tumor at the time.” Her husband, George, did extensive research on brain tumors, and all signs pointed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
The family received a referral and arrived at St. Jude in January 2010. At St. Jude, further testing was done and a discovery was made: Mark’s tumor was actually a very rare type of bone cancer, in the Ewing sarcoma family of tumors — not brain cancer as originally believed.
Mark underwent surgery and a year of chemotherapy as part of his treatment for bone cancer at St. Jude. Because of donors and the unique mission of 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.
“It’s like a miracle. Everything is given to the family here for free without any expectation,” Rita said. Now five years cancer free, Mark returns to St. Jude for regular checkups. He’s in the second grade and is great at math.
“I wish every nation in the world would have a St. Jude,” said Rita. “That way, everyone would have a chance.”