By April Schippers, a mother who is making a difference
Published on May 03, 2016
The room was dark and the air suddenly seemed stale. As we tightly crammed together, I felt as if I was going to suffocate. But not because of the lack of space, but rather by the fear of what I was about to hear.
A tall man wearing a long gray lab coat swiftly placed X-rays onto the light board in front of us. He started talking in a strong and steady tone that almost seemed rehearsed. I tried to tune into what he was saying. But instead I stood trance-like, only noticing a massive foreign object in the image of my son’s brain staring back at me. I picked up on muffled sounds here and there as key words started echoing through the room: Large. Vascular. Two weeks to live.
My eyes were quickly welling up with tears that I didn’t even have the strength to shed. My voice had disappeared somewhere deep within what had now become just a shell of my body. It had been less than 24 hours since I first learned that there was a mass in my son’s brain. Now here we were learning about Isaac’s fate from John Ruge, MD, one of the top pediatric neurosurgeons in the country and the director of the Midwest Children’s Brain Tumor Center at Advocate Children’s Hospital. My sister’s fingers wrapped around my arm and clutched onto me tightly as Dr. Ruge continued talking in what sounded like a foreign language (that I am now fluent in).
I wondered how Dr. Ruge was able to remain so stoic and reserved in a moment like this. How many times had he stood in this exact same room? How many times in his career had he delivered devastating news to parents? Had this world of childhood cancer turned him numb? Instead, he stood there as a pillar of strength for us—Isaac’s parents, family and loved ones—just when we felt we were going to crumble right in front of him.
I was deflated and prayed that I would wake up from this awful nightmare. But I knew that in reality my five–year-old son unknowingly had to start gearing up for the fight of his life. I wanted to hate Dr. Ruge as if he was the person that put this tumor inside of my pumpkin’s brain rather than just the innocent messenger. Little did I know that the very next day, it would be Dr. Ruge’s skilled hands and expertise that would save my son’s life.
Here we are almost five years since that first meeting. And although our family has lived a lifetime since that day, it’s funny how the heart never forgets. Simply hearing Dr. Ruge’s name, driving past the hospital, or seeing June 22 on a calendar can bring me right back to that moment. That very moment that divides life into two time periods—before cancer and our new normal.
It’s that moment when I realized that Tylenol doesn’t cure all headaches. That moment when I first learned that a mother’s kiss doesn’t always hold the magical powers that you see in the movies or read about in fairy tales. That moment where the only option that I had as a mother was to put all of my faith into the hands of a complete stranger.
Twice a year, Isaac has a very important date with a very important person—Dr. Ruge! Isaac’s appointments with Dr. Ruge have become my favorite days of the year. I can’t help but be overcome with admiration and gratitude. I sit there quietly in a room that has now become all too familiar and watch as Dr. Ruge interacts with my son. I hear that same steady tone that I heard for the first time all those years ago. His voice now helps put me at peace, and I suddenly feel myself start to breathe for the first time in what feels like forever.
Isaac Parris was only five years old when he was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, the most common form of childhood brain cancer. He endured brain surgery, 9 rounds of chemotherapy, and 30 cranial and spinal radiation treatments. Read more about Isaac journey from his story in Healing Gifts.
Isaac is now 10 years old in 5th grade. He and his family have started their own non-profit organization, Camp Out From Cancer, to give back to other families going through a cancer diagnosis.