Tell us about Walker’s diagnosis and the impact his diagnosis had your family?Walker is my youngest of four children. He was six years old and as healthy as could be. Like any kid, he just loved having fun, being with his brother and sisters, going to school – there was absolutely no reason to imagine he had cancer. His diagnosis came as a result of his regular “well” visits with doctors. During his eye exam his doctor noticed something and called for an MRI. It was concerning, of course, but still… cancer? No. I never imagined that.
Yet, there we were. We found ourselves sitting in a room being told that Walker had a brain tumor. Walker was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, which was something I had never even heard of but soon came to learn that brain cancer is the most common solid tumor found in children, and that medulloblastoma is the most common of all pediatric brain tumors. From that moment on, our entire family was changed forever.
For me, I became fiercely protective of my child, stopping at absolutely nothing to ensure he was getting the best care. His tumor was surgically removed by Dr. Mark Souweidane, and Dr. Jeff Greenfield, Weill Cornell Medical Center, and he followed up with an effective, albeit brutal, treatment protocol. It was hell. I had to resist the urge to run away every day we walked into clinic, but then when the hospital doors opened to reveal hundreds of kids on the oncology floor I realized that I can never turn a blind eye to this shocking reality. I wanted to learn more about childhood cancer, and I vowed that once we got through our own journey, I would continue to help others impacted by the disease.
My poor boy suffered a great deal, but he survived, and he is able to be a kid again. He was too young to recognize the gravity of it all, but he remembers almost everything. He remembers the other children he met along the way, some who didn’t survive and some who still have a long journey ahead, and I believe all of this will shape the man he becomes.
My other three children have become so philanthropic. They learned the brutal realities of life, and just how vulnerable we all are, at a very young age. I worried about them so much because I was unable to give them the individual attention they needed while Walker was in the hospital. I felt I was neglecting the rest of my family, but they were all so amazing despite it all. I think this experience has opened their hearts and inspired them to be more active to help others. They have become more selfless and mature because they saw how many other children are fighting these big battles – and I am so proud of them for allowing that perspective to have a positive influence in their lives.