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Tanner is my 3 year old nephew. On April 25, 2011 Tanner lost his fight with brain cancer. He was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 1 ½ – I can remember that day, it’s hauntingly vivid – he was fine one day and the next, he’s having immediate brain surgery. He spent countless rounds of chemotherapy and rigorous radiation. It worked, for the time being…there were no cancer cells in his brain 10 months later! Unfortunately 2 weeks after his last test, he was re-diagnosed with the same type of cancer – it came back even worse. He endured one more brain surgery, two spine surgeries, and endless chemotherapy sessions again.
At the age of 2, Tanner hit the limit of radiation acceptable for any adult (let alone a child) – in hopes to save his life and shrink the remaining tumors, he endured even more radiation. In August of this past year, Tanner’s diagnosis became worse, as if that seemed possible at the time. His cancer spread from his brain to his spine. Tumors were constricting vital fluids in his spinal cord, resulting in paralysis from the waist down, and larger ones were pressing on his bowels. He endured two spine surgeries in hope to minimize what could be and restore the ability to move his legs.
My family and I were able to take Tanner on his Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World two weeks before he passed. Honestly, I have never seen a child so happy. That trip was worth everything because we saw him smile and laugh – things he wasn’t doing in a long time. It was bittersweet, however, because two weeks after, Tanner passed away. He was the strongest, bravest, and most resilient person I have ever met and it became apparent at his wakes and funeral that he touched so many people with one simple word, “Hi”.
Tanner loved fire trucks! On a trip to Chicago with his parents, he visited a random fire house for his birthday – the men at this fire company were so amazingly nice and sweet to him, they even let him wash the fire trucks! The chief of the company gave Tanner a birthday present – his old fire helmet, which Tanner loved! The generosity and kindness of these men were unparalleled to anything I’ve ever seen. Until Tanner’s wakes, when those firemen drove 14 hours to pay their respects to him and my family. To say that touched our hearts more than imaginable would be putting it lightly. He made friends with a lot of firemen…there’s something about a child so passionate about fire trucks; we all knew he’d grow up to be a fireman. Around his last Christmas, he was honored by a fire house – they made him an honorary chief, filled out all the paperwork, and gave Tanner his very own chief’s helmet (complete with his name!). This allowed Tanner to be given a chief’s funeral – he was honored by two large arches on the way to his final resting place. It was something to see, it truly was – beautiful and tragic.
It makes absolutely no sense to why he was only with us for such a short time, but I am confident in that the time he was with us, made all of us stronger and better in so many ways. My family is still healing, if we ever can completely heal, but I do know that Tanner taught me things in life aren’t as important as family. I love him and I miss him.