April 30, 2017 will, for my wife and I, be a date that we will always know where we were, what we did, every moment of the entire day. It was a life-changing day. It changed our priorities, changed our course, changed the way we look at parenting, changed the way we look at our children and changed how I look at being a father.
This was the day we found out that our 1-and-a-half-year-old has a rare brain tumor. The following days were a blur, with various doctors and nurses introducing themselves, speaking in a language you can hardly understand but for a few terms used in those medical dramas on TV. We barely caught any sleep, and what sleep we did get was interrupted by various beeps and check-ups to make sure our child was still stable.
I still remember the day we got out of the intensive-care unit (ICU), they sent us to the sixth floor, which is a post-surgery recovery. It was an amazing sight. We walked into a large room, the sun was setting over Minneapolis, and it filled the entire room with an orange glow that was so relaxing. I sat on the couch, soaked it all in and thought “We made it, we are out of the woods and I just know the doctors will come in and say it’s a benign tumor and our journey has ended.” It was shortly after that thought that the doctors arrived with the news. A crushing blow we eventually got used to. Malignant tumor… long journey ahead.
Our son Aric has since had four rounds of intense chemotherapy, an additional surgery to get more of the tumor, two more chemotherapy sessions, a stem cell transplant, and 30 days of proton radiation. We have spent more time in the hospital than out this year.
Over the course of the past year I have spent more time just staring at Aric, wishing I could make the pain, sickness and struggle go away and make him better again. I have stared at him just thankful that he is so strong when I was struggling to be. I now savor every smile, every “Daddy!”, every walk without a bobble and every moment that normally would pass as just another step in growing up.
It is not until you have lost the happiness and light your child had once shown you that you truly appreciate those moments. After each round of chemo, Aric would want nothing to do with me. He was feeling absolutely wrecked, and all I could do is occasionally hold his hand while he rested. This usually lasted a week or two. But then, when he wakes up that special day, and actually says “Daddy” and smiles, it is truly an amazing feeling - indescribable.
So far you must be thinking, “Well, this story seems pretty grim.” But the story doesn’t end here. On April 19 2018, Aric received his first truly positive MRI. The tumor shrunk and is stable. At the same time, they decided to take out his central line, which means this summer can be filled with swimming pools, sandboxes and doing things that a normal 2-year-old should be doing.
I am the PROUD father of a cancer superhero. I am proud that Aric has come through all of the surgeries, chemotherapies and radiation, still happy and living his life the best way he knows how. The treatment hasn’t stopped him. I look at him and see an amazing boy. I have dreams of him growing up happy and healthy and living life without a care in the world, because whatever challenge will present him in the future, he has already beaten something much worse. I see the way he plays with his two older brothers (Adrien and Allister) and it’s like typical boys play, wrestling, jumping on the bed, making messes and full of energy and excitement. While we haven’t received the big “Remission” statement from the doctors, I know Aric will get there someday.
Written by Tom Ferlaak
Tom Ferlaak is the father of three sons, Adrien, Allister and Aric, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in April 2017. Tom and his wife Jessica live in Maple Grove, Minnesota and are looking forward to the day they can finally say Aric is in remission.