CALEDONIA, Mich. — For most families, the Christmas tree comes down after the first of the year, but Kelli and Brandon Greer will likely keep theirs up all year.
“I went to go take the Christmas tree down the day after New Year’s,’ Kelli said, “and I just looked at Brandon and said, ‘I can’t do it,’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you don’t have to do it.’”
The Greers are afraid this past Christmas will be their last with their beautiful 19-month-old daughter Abigail, who has a rare brain cancer called ependymoma. That’s when a tumor grows in the central nervous system. There was a mass at the base of her brain stem.
The cancer was discovered exactly 10 months after she was born. After surgery and radiation treatments, hopes were high that Abby was in the clear. But the cancer is back.
At first, Abigail had spent seven days vomiting, Brandon explained. “We had taken her to her pediatrician twice, and they had told us it was just a virus, she has the flu, we have to let it pass.” Abby’s blood work even came back fine.
But after waking from a nap, Abby was lethargic and couldn’t keep her head up, so the Greers headed to the emergency room at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Brandon will never forget looking through the glass door of the hospital. “We saw the huddle of doctors, and I knew there was a problem.”
One of the doctors felt the front part of Abby’s head, where her soft spot was, and noticed that it was a little puffy. The Greers followed the doctor’s advice, and the baby underwent a CAT scan.
Kelli and Brandon were told that Abby had cancer plus fluid on the brain, which would require her to be put into a coma so a stent could be inserted to drain it.
“That night we kissed her, and I promised her that I would never leave her.” a tearful Brandon said.
Three days later, Abby underwent a nearly 13-hour surgery to remove the mass, which was located at the base of her neck near her brain stem. For 29 days, while Abby recovered, mommy and daddy never left their daughter, sleeping at the hospital.
On April 26, little Abby was able to come home, cancer-free. In May, she started 30 rounds of radiation treatment. Abby would have to undergo an MRI regularly to make sure the cancer did not come back.
Hopes were high, because it was believed the entire tumor had been removed. “But it’s one of those cancers that comes back regularly.” Brandon explained. Her MRIs in July and September came back perfect.
“I wanted Abby to be a big sister,” Brandon said. “I still want Abby to be a big sister. God’s blessing, we found out that we were pregnant in the beginning of November.”
With the good news came bad news after Abby’s MRI on December 6. “They told me her cancer had come back,” Kelli said, “and that it was in her spine and her brain. And I just cried and said no, no.”
There were spots of cancer on different parts of her brain and now on her spine. Surgery was no longer an option, which made the cancer terminal.
Abby is now undergoing another 25 rounds of radiation, with Thursday, Jan. 10, marking number 17. Doctors could not assure Kelli and Brandon what an oral form of chemo therapy would do to the baby.
“They are saying that they are hoping that the radiation that she’s going through now, will buy us a couple of more months,” Brandon said.
Brandon and Kelli have taken leave from their jobs to spend every moment they can with Abby. A spaghetti dinner benefit has been set up for them. The event will take place from on March 2 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Pietro’s Italian Restaurant in Grand Rapids.