By Tami Jackson
Life in this fallen world can be joyful and heartbreaking, messy and miraculous. And of course life and death are part of the journey. Everyone not in either infancy or dementia understands the fact that death is inevitable.
However, understanding the surety of death does not mean we welcome it one minute sooner than we absolutely have to. We’re created for life and yearn for life. And every now and then we hear a story that makes us count our blessings and, yes, even feel ashamed of our moments of self-pity.
Enter the story of Shawn, the youngest of five children, son of Dale and Kim Benson.
Shawn was a healthy fifth grade boy, only a couple months shy of his eleventh birthday, when some troubling symptoms manifested: he began having headaches, fatigue, and then vomiting in the mornings. His parents knew something was amiss, but thought perhaps an intestinal ailment rather than some nefarious illness.
His mom, Kim, took him the doctor, who recommended a CT scan of Shawn’s head. Kim and her husband, Dale, were puzzled. Why a scan of his head when it appeared his problem was in the digestive system?
But they followed orders and Kim took him St. Luke’s Hospital for the CT scan on a Sunday. The scan revealed a tumor in the brain, the severity of which was made clear when they immediately transferred Shawn via ambulance to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Mom Kim rode with Shawn to TCH, watching as the medical team worked at an alarming pace. Shawn underwent an MRI 2AM. Kim was texting Dale and the family with the play-by-play.
I can’t imagine how Kim felt watching her youngest son undergo these tests confirming the worst fears any parent could ever have. And Dale? He was manning the homefront with the other kids, most likely feeling helpless to do much but wait.
Talking to Dale, he thinks the world of Kim and laughingly says, “She’s a tough broad.” Though not a native Texan, Kim seems imbued with that strong, Lone Star steel resolve, and she would need that strength for the journey her son was about to embark upon.
After the 2AM MRI, Shawn was kept at Texas Children’s Hospital and prepped for surgery on Tuesday. Kim, Dale and the kids waited while Shawn underwent a nine hour surgery.
The tumor, a medulloblastoma, which was about the size of a peach, was located in the cerebellum:
The cerebellum is located behind the top part of the brain stem (where the spinal cord meets the brain) and is made of two hemispheres (halves).
The cerebellum receives information from the sensory systems, the spinal cord, and other parts of the brain and then regulates motor movements. The cerebellum coordinates voluntary movements such as posture, balance, coordination, and speech, resulting in smooth and balanced muscular activity. It is also important for learning motor behaviors.
A medulloblastoma is described at the American Brain Tumor Association:
Medulloblastoma is always located in the cerebellum—the lower, rear portion of the brain. It is unusual for medulloblastomas to spread outside the brain and spinal cord.
Medulloblastoma is a fast-growing, high-grade tumor. It is the most common of the embryonal tumors—tumors that arise from “emybryonal” or “immature” cells at the earliest stage of their development.
Medulloblastoma is relatively rare, accounting for less than 2% of all primary brain tumors and 18% of all pediatric brain tumors.
One can only imagine the finely-honed skill necessary to perform such surgery: thank God for such gifted surgeons and medical teams.
At one point, driving the other four kids to the hospital (three boys and one girl), Dale brought the rambunctious siblings to attention with a question, “You do realize that Shawn is undergoing brain surgery? One even slightly wrong move and you no longer have a little brother?”
Nine long, gut-wrenching hours later, Shawn was taken to the recovery room and when he finally awakened, he couldn’t see. A while later he could see, but had double vision. Dale made a trip to a costume store to buy a pirate’s eye patch for Shawn to wear at first until that double vision subsided.
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