For Jennifer Bates and Son Tyler, St. Jude Provided ‘A Sigh of Relief’
In March 2010, Jennifer Bates found herself in a spot every mother can relate to. Her 2-year-old son Tyler was sick -- vomiting, low energy, dizziness, sore muscles -- and she sensed there was something very wrong that doctors weren't fixing with standard treatments. For three weeks, she worried and kept a close eye on him as she tended to her eight-month-old triplets.
"I did question, am I doing enough for him?" the mother of four from Fort Worth, Texas spills to Taste of Country. Some suggested, and Jennifer even wondered, if he was reacting to the new babies.
"Not only was he getting a new little brother, he was getting 3 at once!" she remembers.
For three weeks, Tyler displayed symptoms. Doctors at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital would later tell her his brain tumor probably started growing six months earlier, and that his symptoms were common for the rare form of cancer.
"They have vomiting just because of the pressure of the tumor on the brain stem," Jennifer explains. "And they are (often) diagnosed at first with a stomach bug or just something with a GI problem or something like that, which Tyler was diagnosed with that in the beginning."
Hindsight has provided 20/20 vision, but at the time, Jennifer Bates was simply a mother trying to decide if her instinct was right, or if she was just being a worrier.
"He wanted me to hold him more, he wanted me to lie down with him at night more, things like that, and for me that was not that different, but then over time I would look back at those things thinking part of his diagnosis was he was scared because he was so young," she adds.
"He probably had pressure. He kept saying, 'I have an owie.' He would hold his head, and he would hold it in the front of his head, and he would not sit in his car seat because when he sits in a car seat that puts pressure on his spine up to his brainstem where the tumor was."
After Tyler acted uninterested in treats from Grandma and spent a lethargic day with her, the family -- including husband Tom -- knew something was wrong and took him to the emergency room. Bates said she thought that'd mark the end of Tyler's issues, not the beginning of a long, painful journey. At no point prior to her visit did she think "cancer."
But that's what doctors found -- a rare, aggressive form called medulloblastoma, to be exact. It was quickly removed at a local hospital, and within days the Bates family was in touch with St. Jude. Ten days later, they arrived.
Jennifer describes her first impressions:
"Immediately, when you go in, you’re greeted with -- just everywhere you go -- smiling faces, happy and bright colored walls. You see kids everywhere. There are kids and families everywhere. At first you walk in not knowing what to expect, you feel like you’re going to get a hospital feel. At St. Jude’s it is a hospital but you don’t walk in feeling that way. Just a happy warm place -- and they don’t greet you like you’re a patient."
Tyler's treatment included six months of intravenous chemotherapy at St. Jude, followed by six months of oral chemotherapy at home. He's now six years old and cancer-free. He loves Legos, karate (he's an orange belt) and the Texas Rangers baseball team. Jennifer gets emotional thinking about how happy Tyler was at St. Jude and how the doctors and staff worked so hard to make it easy for her and her family, beyond making sure they didn't pay a dime for anything.
"For me, it was a sigh of relief," she says. "Going through something like that, you need that ‘It’s ok, it’s going to be ok.’ They make that process ... so easy, that transition, to come from home to knowing that’s your new home for 6 months."
For me, it was a sigh of relief. Going through something like that, you need that, ‘It’s ok, it’s going to be ok.’
Tyler returns to Memphis regularly for scans and checkups, and to catch up with old friends. Friends ... that's what the staff becomes to the hundreds of patients that seek treatment yearly. Families also bond during treatment and stay in touch over the phone or through online blogs or email.
"I think that’s great that they have such caring atmosphere; you do not meet one stranger there," Jennifer says. "That’s the great thing about it. You start to know the patients and their families as you're walking through the halls. You just know everyone. It’s like a little community, which makes it very unique."
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