Brady Morton was a little groggy when he arrived home from the hospital a few weeks ago. So it took a while for the meaning of the teddy bear brigade sitting in his front yard to sink in.
The 3-year-old Hillsboro boy has spent the past year undergoing treatment for stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer that develops from nerve cells.
So when his parents, Valerie and Brendan Morton, brought him home on June 8, Brady wasn’t expecting much fanfare — until he saw the front yard.
The Mortons’ neighbor, Liberty Barnes, organized an effort to decorate the lawn and the inside of their house. Teddy bears with red hearts greeted Brady outside. Inside, the stairwell was lined with posters wishing him well. Students at Jackson Elementary School had made signs and the family’s dining room table was filled with gifts.
Once he woke up a bit, “Brady was so excited,” Barnes said.
Valerie Morton first took Brady to the doctor in April 2011, concerned because he’d had a fever for a week.
When her son’s blood work came back normal, she went home thinking Brady would feel better soon.
But after the third visit to the doctor in as many weeks — now with Brady’s abdomen swollen — Valerie knew something was amiss. She posted a photo of Brady’s swollen belly online. She soon got a reply from her sister, who works for a dentist, who is married to a pediatrician. The message was clear: Take Brady to the emergency room.
In May, doctors found a large tumor on Brady’s adrenal gland, making it appear that his stomach was swollen. He was transferred immediately to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland and began treatment the next day.
The Morton family was shocked and overwhelmed. Brady’s cancer had metastasized and spread into his pelvis, spine and bone marrow.
“I think I was in shock for a whole week,” Valerie said. “I didn’t sleep.”
Neuroblastoma is most commonly found in children 2 and younger, according to the Mayo Clinic. About one in 100,000 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma annually.
Immediately after diagnosis, Valerie said, families get a binder of information explaining treatment, medications, side effects, and what to expect during cancer treatment.
“It’s like a dictionary,” Valerie said, referring to its sheer size. “It’s very overwhelming.”
Brady’s treatment was a long, arduous journey.
He underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, each round a three-week process of being in and out of the hospital. Because he is so young, one of his parents had to stay in the hospital with him. Valerie quit her job as a hair stylist, and Brendan’s job at Intel allowed him the flexibility to work from the hospital.
Brady had stem cell transplant surgery after his fifth chemotherapy treatment. Doctors harvested Brady’s own stem cells prior to chemotherapy and reinjected them to help strengthen his immune system.
That treatment required a full month’s stay at the hospital last November.
During that stay, Valerie wanted to personalize Brady’s hospital room — make it more like home and less like the hospital. She decorated it in a clown theme, with wall decals, themed sheets and blankets, stuffed animals and a canopy over Brady’s day bed.
“I felt bad, though, when other kids walked by and said, ‘I wish my room looked like that,’” Valerie said.
She decided to give a little boost to the kids and parents who were going through the same thing. Valerie started Rock’n Rooms, a program to gather donations to help decorate the hospital rooms of other young cancer patients at Doernbecher. Bright, cheery rooms, Valerie said, help with healing.
Valerie will hold a bake sale fundraiser Saturday for Rock’n Rooms during a community garage sale in her neighborhood.
After the transplant, Brady went through 20 rounds of radiation, then antibody therapy, a medication that binds to cancer cells.
In all, Valerie said, Brady was an inpatient for 35 weeks during the past year.
Valerie and Brendan juggled work and family. Brady has three brothers, ages 9, 7 and 5.
Valerie joined many online support groups and met many new friends. “I’ve learned so much. I want to share it with parents whose children are diagnosed with cancer,” she said.
Brady turned 3 a few days after his homecoming. He celebrated in style with a well-deserved birthday bash at a local park, complete with a band, a bounce house, a climbing wall and many, many well-wishers.
Brady is cancer-free. He’ll get an MRI every three months to check for relapse.
“We’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” Valerie said.
The family goes on a Disney cruise at the end of September, courtesy of Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Contributions to Rock’n Rooms can be made at Saturday’s community garage sale at 1204 N.E. Creeksedge Drive in Hillsboro or visit www.angelsmakingadifference.com/how-you-can-help/support/rockn-rooms.
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