In the summer of 2014, Brannon’s parents couldn’t find a doctor who could explain their son’s frequent headaches and vomiting. When he woke up one morning and said he felt like his head was going to explode, his mother rushed him to the nearest trauma center.
“They gave him something for the nausea and said we were free to leave,” Kristen said. “I said I won’t leave until you do a head scan. So finally, they did.”
When the scans came back, a neurosurgeon sat down with Kristen and delivered a terrifying diagnosis. “He said, ‘your child has a giant mass on the back of his brain and two in the front, and it doesn’t look good.’” Without emergency surgery, it’s likely Brannon would not have survived another week.
During the seven-hour surgery, neurosurgeons removed most of the brain stem tumor, but left behind a postage stamp-size piece of the tumor on the brain stem. Brannon came out of surgery with a new set of challenges: He suffered from Terson syndrome, a condition that inhibited him from seeing, walking, talking and swallowing, which had to be treated with physical therapy.
More dauntingly, he had to begin a lengthy course of chemotherapy and proton radiation to remove the parts of the masses left behind after surgery.
“We called everyone, anywhere across the country, asking ‘where is the best place?’” Kristen said. “Everyone said the best place is in your backyard at Lurie Children’s. Everyone said you want Dr. Goldman at Lurie’s.”
“I’ll never forget it—he said, ‘I’m Stew, and I’m here to help your child become a happy old man, and that’s our goal together.’ It felt like the first major ray of hope.”
Under the guidance of Dr. Stewart Goldman, Division Head of Hematology, Oncology Neuro-Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation at Lurie Children’s, Brannon completed 31 rounds of proton radiation. The radiation essentially melted away the rest of the tumor.
With his tumor successfully eliminated, Brannon then did six months of intensive chemotherapy to tackle the cancer cells in his spinal fluid—a process that required frequent inpatient stays at Lurie Children’s.
“I don’t want to downplay what Brannon went through because it was really tough, and there are parts he doesn’t remember which I’m grateful for. But at the end of chemo, when it came time to ring the bell he started crying because he didn’t want to leave,” Kristen said.
Today, Brannon is a cancer-free 12-year-old boy who loves Legos, board games and soccer. He has a can-do spirit, big heart and a gentleness that draws him to other children, his parents say. He is raising awareness for the CHICAGO Dance Marathon to raise funds for Lurie Children’s and is a 2019 Children’s Miracle Network Champion.
“I want to be a symbol of hope for other kids,” he said.