I have been doing so much thinking lately about the many tragic childhood losses I have witnessed as a result of brain tumors. After seeing my dear friends lose their 3 year old son Crosby to an undetected brain tumor, I felt incredibly defeated. Almost like all of a sudden I was putting up my hands in defeat….waving the white flag to cancer. I was talking to my mom on the phone and in confounded tears I admitted that I don’t know if it is possible to “stop” or “cure” or “early detect” brain tumors.
But, after many hours of thought, I realized, Breast cancer and leukemia were once looked at with the same defeated feeling as brain tumors. Why can’t there be early detection for brain tumors the way there is for breast cancer? Why can’t there be more awareness of symptoms like there is for leukemia? I suspect that because of the incredibly quick moving and aggressive nature of brain tumors, it will be extremely hard to come up with early detection. But, I also figure that the only way people will recognize symptoms is if we talk about them. If I can help even one person notice then it will be the start. Who knows? Maybe one day people will be asking “Did you get your yearly brain scan?” The same way they ask if women got their mammogram. I hope one day the research will be so far ahead of the guessing game we are at right now.
So I will start with Hayes….my own brain tumor experience. The first symptom I began to notice was:
◦Extreme Lethargy: sweet Hayes was sleeping way too much. At the time I blew it off as if it was teething or a growth spurt. I remember one night at a family Christmas party, Reese and Heath were crawling around and Hayes was fast asleep in his stroller If your child is acting sleepy or lethargic for no direct reason, and it doesn’t improve, call your child’s pediatrician.
◦Headache: I began to notice Hayes putting his hand on his head a lot. He would slightly moan in pain and have those heavy lidded eyes that are common with headaches. Headaches obviously don’t always translate to a brain tumor, but, one sign you can look for in your child is if it is worse in the mornings.
◦Vision, Hearing or Speech Changes: Hayes could not talk, so this symptom warning didn’t particularly apply to us. But, sudden changes in how your child sees, hears or talks should be evaluated by a medical professional.
◦Increased Head Size: looking back, this symptom is screaming at me. Within one week, I could barely get a shirt over his head. His poor head was increasing in size because of his tumor. This is particularly the case with babies. Because the skull bones are still malleable, a brain tumor can cause their head to grow in abnormal ways and quickly.
◦Seizures: the first time Hayes had a seizure it was after we had already discovered his brain tumor and it had been a few days since his tumor resection (removal). But, I know so many kids where seizures were the main symptom.
◦Balance problems: Hayes was not walking at the point of the “early detection” phase but he had been rolling over, before his triplet brother and sister, and now, when I layed him on the ground, he could barely lift his head off the floor, he also stopped using his left hand more and more. So I categorize these things with balance. If your older child suddenly has a hard time keeping his or her balance though, a doctor can help you determine why.
◦Nausea and Vomiting: this was a major symptom for Hayes. He threw up every single ounce of milk he would drink. It was so sad. Nausea can be due to a brain tumor causing increased pressure inside the brain. If these symptoms persist or coincide with a headache, ask your child’s pediatrician for an expert medical opinion.
◦Cognitive decline and personality change: Often, children show signs of confusion and fail to comprehend tasks that others in their age group would. Parents may notice that their child is not reaching the developmental milestones they should or may even be moving backward.
◦Bulging fontanelle: Baby fontanelles, also known as the “soft spot” is the outward curving of the soft spot on an infant’s skull where the plates have not yet closed. Hayes still had his soft spot, and guess what, it was raised! This was what really sent us into a panic.
At the end of the day, your gut will tell you more than any list I can give you. While there are many reasons why a child might experience sudden physical or behavioral changes. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re “overreacting” if you sense something is wrong; your gut will not steer you wrong.