Matthew Donald: a baby named for two amazing people in his parents’ lives, both of whom were taken by cancer. And Matthew Donald—“Miracle Matthew”, as his parents and doctors like to call him—is himself a true childhood cancer warrior, having gone through more in four short years than most people see in a lifetime. But Matthew was born a fighter into a family of fighters, showing us through it all the true meaning of courage, spirit, and joy.
Matthew’s cancer journey began even before he was born. Two weeks before his birth, his parents learned that he had fluid in his brain. The tumor was discovered at just four days old, during a surgical procedure to drain the fluid. Doctors removed a portion of the tumor, as well as the fluid, but the diagnosis was stark: Matthew had an aggressive type of brain cancer, a grade 4 neuronal glioma, consuming more than 40% of his brain, most of the right side. Matthew’s parents faced a grim choice: take Matthew home with a hospice team and make him as comfortable as possible or immediately schedule aggressive treatment.
Neuronal glioma is an extremely rare type of brain cancer, most often diagnosed in adults and appearing in less than five births per year in the United States. Gliomas grow in the connective tissue of the brain that holds the neurons in place and enables them to function. Neuronal glioma is usually fatal in children; in fact, no child has survived more than five or six years after being born with this type of brain cancer. According to the National Brain Tumor Society, not a single drug has been developed and approved specifically for the treatment of malignant pediatric brain tumors. The outlook for Matthew was not good.
Matthew’s parents, however, refused to give up on him. They chose to pursue chemotherapy and surgery to fight the tumor spreading through Matthew’s brain. After the first surgery, Matthew had five additional surgeries and six rounds of chemotherapy. He spent the first 13 months of his life in the hospital. And because of the damage to his brain from the toxic treatment protocols, the surgeries, and the tumor itself, doctors warned Matthew’s parents that even if he lived, he may never walk, talk, hear, or “live a normal life”.
Yet Matthew showed his doctors and his parents that miracles do happen! His tumor responded to the aggressive treatment, and in late 2015, Matthew “graduated” into a survivorship program at the hospital, where he will continue to receive medical treatment and frequent monitoring and testing.
Today, Matthew embraces his life with the same courage, spirit, and determination with which he fought cancer. Now 4½ years old, Matthew has begun walking independently; not bad, as his mother notes, for a child who spent the first 18 months of his life confined to bed! He can say a handful of words and continues to build strength in his left side, which was left weakened by the tumor consuming the right hemisphere of his brain. He goes to school where he receives specialized therapy, and sees specialists outside of school three times per week for speech, occupational, and physical therapy.
Still, the tumor and the aggressive treatment have had significant side effects for which Matthew receives constant medical care. He suffers from seizures, a common side effect of any brain surgery, and will likely be on anti-seizure medication for the rest of his life. His hearing has been impacted and he wears hearing aids in both ears. The veins in both of his arms have been severely damaged from so many IV lines and blood tests, making even routine tests and scans problematic. Still, as Matthew’s mother notes, “his happy spirit has never changed!”
Thank you, Miracle Matthew, for showing us what it truly means to be a childhood cancer warrior!
For more information about Matthew and to follow his amazing story, we encourage you to view his family’s YouTube video: http://youtu.be/WZL_7pj4Nvg and visit their Facebook page at:
About the American Childhood Cancer Organization
The American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, the ACCO is the sole US member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, the ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer. And most importantly, the ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.
For additional information on our resources or information on how to obtain our resources free of charge, please visit our website at www.acco.org.
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