For Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Updated: Nov 10
For Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I want to share with you how our journey to our child’s cure from pediatric brain cancer began — the signs of a tumor that were there — that at the time, we didn’t know were symptoms. I do so because sharing these things might help save another life.
They were 14 at the time, beginning 9th grade and high school. They are now 15, and a Survivor.
In October 2022, the brain tumor was found via an MRI, which was ordered following an eye exam. We scheduled the eye exam in late September, after noticing the left eye tracking differently from the right. We had to wait a couple weeks for the appointment, which at the time seemed acceptable to us as they did not have any visual complaints. We would later learn this was because their brain had adapted to letting the right eye do all the work.
It was the optometrist at a local eyeglass shop that took retinal images and recommended we go straight to an ER. Without telling us, the optometrist knew what was there.
So it was the eyes that lead us to a diagnosis. But there were other symptoms. They were intermittent, small — and easily dismissed. They were:
1) Small but Persistent Headaches
My child would tell me about them but downplay them, saying they were fine and could take a Tylenol and go to school. I remember telling them to drink more water, find ways to de-stress away from a screen, and get to bed earlier. High school had begun with an earlier schedule, and they had entered the Honors program — leading us to blame increased stress and anxiety.
2) Morning Nausea
Less than a handful of times, they would wake and vomit before school. I would check them for a temperature (no fever) and they would feel better within minutes and tell me they felt fine to go to school. Like the headaches, we dismissed these bouts of nausea as being related to stress and anxiety.
3) Hard to Wake/Increased Fatigue
In the weeks leading to her diagnosis, it was very hard for them to wake up in the morning. They also showed increased fatigue in the evenings. I remember we decided an earlier bedtime was needed, and we decreased extracurricular activities. Again, we blamed these symptoms on stress and a changing routine — as well as the phrase “being a teenager.”
4) Different Behavior & Loss of Balance
Burned in my memory is an evening that my child came to me, while I was sitting in bed reading before lights out. They told me they felt a little weird, a bit wobbly — and stumbled as they came into the room. They sat on the bed and I fetched the thermometer (again, normal temp) and a glass of water. They began to talk to me about things I didn’t know they were interested in, in a way that felt slightly different from how they would usually speak.
This is the encounter that I will always remember as the one that should have triggered to me that there was a bigger problem than the anxiety of beginning high school, the stressors of honors classes and a changed schedule. It was the point when I began contemplating leaving my job, even though I loved the library and my coworkers, in order to be more present at home.
No, I do not blame myself for not knowing that my child had a cancerous brain tumor. No parent should. It is the last thing you would ever think, the last thing you would ever expect to be the cause of your child’s symptoms.
But perhaps by sharing, there will be another parent or caregiver or friend out there who recognizes the signs fast enough to help save another child.
This month, my family is celebrating the end of our child’s cancer treatment plan, and their latest MRIs as showing NED: No evidence of disease. It has taken us 11 months to fight pediatric cancer together. They are a Warrior, a Survivor — and we are grateful.
Thank you for being here, for reading and for helping to support children and teens fighting a pediatric cancer diagnosis. Awareness is life-changing and life-saving. Please share.
Stacie & the Eirich family