In May 2009, 5-year-old Braeden complained of a back and neck ache. Little did he know that he would soon be only the 12th case in the world of Atypical Ganglioneurocytoma, a rare form of cancer.
Barely able to lift his head, his mother Tanya took him to his physician, where an MRI revealed a tumor on the young boy’s spinal cord. They went directly to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where the neurosurgeon confirmed their worst fear: The tumor was cancerous.
Braeden underwent his first surgery to remove the tumor on May 21, 2009, aware of the risk that he may never be able to use his arms or walk again. In the caring hands of the hospital’s staff, he recovered in the ICU. His nurses put him at ease by explaining the purpose of each monitor and the ventilator, and they offered hope and encouragement that he would indeed not only walk again, but run with his friends. While the surgeon told him it may take up to 3 months to take his first steps, he was up and on his feet in just 10 days.
The same warm smiles that were there from the beginning of Braeden’s journey with Children’s Hospital were there to great him each time he returned for an appointment. Little did they know that they would soon grow even closer to this second family. In October, the doctors discovered that Braeden’s tumor had spread into his spinal cord, requiring radiation. Despite treatment, the tumor continued to progress. The next step was chemotherapy, which meant weekly trips to Children’s Hospital for the next year. The same two nurses were there every step of the way, reassuring both Braeden and Tanya and finding ways to make them smile through the toughest days. When he went for his frequent MRIs, the nurses knew that a soft pretzel with cheese afterward would surely put a smile on his face.
Unfortunately, a year later, Braeden he had to start chemotherapy for tumor advancement again. From June 2015 until June 2016, he spent every Monday at Children’s Hospital. Each week, he was able to see the same staff, which provided a great comfort. His care team knows everything going on in Braeden’s life — and not just what his blood counts look like. They know what sport he is currently playing and how each game went. And if he wasn’t playing a sport, they always knew to catch up with him on ESPN or daily news. Two things Braeden makes sure he is caught up on each day.
“At Children’s, they are not just staff, they have become part of our family,” Tanya said. “We are blessed to have a wonderful team that takes care of Braeden. We know we can call and they are there to help. An example of this is when Braeden was having shortness of breath and difficulty breathing after his treatment the day before and they immediately called me back. They had him be seen in MACC Day hospital and be admitted. He was given every test for his lungs to rule out anything major. Luckily, they didn’t find anything causing his low oxygen, but we left three days later feeling confident that he would be OK returning to all his sports. Because in the life of a 12-year-old that is really what matters to him!
“Yes, they are treating a scary disease, but they also see a child who just wants to be a child. He has been a patient at Children’s with his cancer diagnosis for seven years now and probably more treatments in the near future. They are not just treating his cancer they are also helping us keep Braeden happy, which is just as important.”