How Beckett Got His Shine Back After the Cloud of a Brain Tumor Diagnosis

Shortly before Beckett turned 6 years old his parents began to notice a few out-of-the-norm things happening with him. Like the fact that he would easily get dizzy if he were spun around and was catching what seemed like multiple bouts of stomach flu. While uncomfortable for Beckett, these things alone didn’t seem like red flags; but when Beckett’s teacher came to Mom, Nora, and Dad, Pat, concerned that his personality was seeming different in school, they knew there was something deeper going on.

In early 2023, Beckett was initially diagnosed with chronic constipation based on his symptoms. Over the next few months though, his gait began to change, the nausea and vomiting continued and he began experiencing hip pain. Thorough testing and additional conversations with their pediatrician led them to the Lurie Children’s Orthopedics team where an MRI finally revealed what had been causing Beckett so much pain and discomfort the last few months, and it was entirely unrelated to his bones, joints and muscles. Beckett was experiencing hydrocephalus – a build-up of fluid deep within the brain –  caused by a brain tumor.

“We never expected that news – his bloodwork was coming back normal, so we thought tumors and cancer had been ruled out,” Nora said.

Beckett was rushed into surgery to remove the build-up of fluid and spent two weeks in the hospital while a biopsy of his tumor was examined, and a permanent shunt was placed to help control the hydrocephalus. Eventually, the family received news that changed their world – Beckett was diagnosed with a low-grade glioma, otherwise known as a slow-growing, cancerous brain tumor. Furthermore, Beckett’s tumor was in a troublesome area of his brain, the direct center, which meant removing the mass was not an option. Instead, he’d start right away on an intensive chemotherapy plan.

While the McBrides were hopeful that the start of chemo would be the start of Beckett’s resilient recovery, his first go at it proved to be extremely challenging. At his 12-week check-in, the family learned that his tumor had grown, and the cancer had spread. This news, in addition to the number of chemo side effects he was experiencing, was a difficult reality to face, but together with their care team at Lurie Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders and Brain Tumor Program, they persisted on with a new chemotherapy strategy. One that Beckett is currently in the middle of receiving and already seeing amazing, hopeful progress with.

“In November [2023] he had a stable MRI and in February [2024] he actually saw some shrinkage. All his side effects [from the first round of chemo] have subsided,” Nora said. “He’s still in physical therapy and occupational therapy but he’s gotten his strength and energy back. He’s back to wrestling with his brothers and playing outside. This chemo treatment has really been a blessing in working for him.”

As Beckett continues with this 52-week treatment plan, his neuro-oncologist, Dr. Angela Waanders, won’t necessarily be looking for his tumor to disappear, but rather waiting for it to go into what she refers to as “sleep mode,” meaning the tumor cells have stopped dividing, which in low-grade tumors may be indefinite or permanent.

Dr. Waanders’ research career began in studying the genomic alterations in childhood low-grade gliomas and developing new therapy strategies against tumors like Beckett’s, ones that can’t be removed by surgery. In the past, people used to refer to low-grade gliomas as “benign,” but Dr. Waanders knows that’s not accurate, as seen by the challenging experiences these patients go through.

“Children diagnosed with inoperable low-grade gliomas often require multiple types of treatment over multiple years. The side effects of the treatments are definitely not ‘benign,’ and so it’s been wonderful to see that this alternative treatment strategy is not only helping to treat Beckett’s low-grade glioma but also that he is able to tolerate it so well. He is now active, eating and gaining weight, and has so much more energy than before.”

Finding super strength with help from Child Life

As a 7-year-old, the hospital can sometimes be a scary place due to the discomfort of recurring blood draws and IV and ports placements, but with the help of the Child Life team and Child Life Specialists like Marlee Speak, Beckett has become a superstar during his chemo treatments.

“Marlee is his best friend. He loves to have her there,” Nora said. “We used to have to hold him to down to get access, and now as long as we do our counting, have our squishies in our hands and do our Superman post to bring his chest out, he doesn’t even hardly whimper. Chemo is almost fun and easy for him now.”

While the McBride family’s brain tumor journey will be an ongoing one, as Beckett’s specific type of tumor will need close monitoring and maintenance care his entire life, the present moment is one Nora is grateful to have, especially compared to where they were this time last year: confused, worried, and filled with uncertainty as they searched for answers.

“We’ve started doing little sighs of relief,” she said. “He’s way more like the kid he was before the tumor started affecting him. We get to see the energy, the silliness, his personality is back to where it was. It does feel like a light at the end of the tunnel even though we still live day to day, chemo to chemo, MRI to MRI.”

While Beckett continues his fight within hospital walls each week, he’s determined to make the most of the time he gets outside of them, and with his regained energy he’s able to do so on the baseball field, soccer field, basketball court and swimming pool!

“We’re very hopeful now. His quality of life has just come back,” Nora said.

Lurie Children’s Brain Tumor Program offers highly specialized, state-of-the-art care for children and teens with brain tumors. The hospital’s Neurology & Neurosurgery program is ranked 10th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary team of physician-scientists develops and participates in innovative research to offer new treatments, improve the standard of care and increase knowledge about the biology of brain and spinal cord tumors. Research is a central component to our center’s mission. In honor of Brain Tumor Awareness Month, learn more about pediatric brain tumor research and consider making a donation that supports this critical work.

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