BANGOR, Maine — The words any mom who has a child with cancer wants to hear provide little comfort for Kimberly Tripp.
“As of right now, he has no evidence of disease,” the Bangor woman said Thursday at her home, with her son, Tripp, 3, and daughters, Kylee, 7, and Jordan, 5, playing on the couch beside her.
She was talking about the results of an MRI performed Wednesday at Eastern Maine Medical Center on her son, Tripp Jackson Murray, who has an an aggressive, life-threatening type of brain cancer.
“I’m happy, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time I’m holding my breath,” Kimberly Tripp said.
This is the second time her son, “Trippy,” has gone into remission.
While his mom talked about the months on end that they have spent in various hospitals and cancer treatment centers, her children did what kids do — they played. Trippy used his iPad to make Easy Bake Oven cookies at first, then got down from the couch to use blankets to cover his sisters, before moving on to his workbench and then a puzzle.
“Poop” and “pee” are his favorite words and he said, “The cancer is going down” as he kicked his leg in the air like a ninja.
For Trippy, the hospital is his second home. In September 2013, a 2 ½-inch long brain tumor was found on his cerebellum and brain stem. He was diagnosed with medulloblastoma.
“It scares me how much he knows about the equipment,” said his mother, who just completed her studies at Beal College to become a medical assistant. The two-year program took her three years going part time. “He’s so used to the hospital way of life, it’s normal for him. He takes it so good. He calls CancerCare [of Maine] his office.”
Trippy knows when they put white stuff in the needle it’s time for a chemotherapy treatment.
“He calls it his nap,” Kimberly Tripp said.
The first sign of a problem was when the boy started to lose his balance and one of his eyes started to turn inward.
The brain stem controls breathing, heart rate, and nerves and muscles used in other basic body functions, according to the National Cancer Institute website. Brain tumors are the third most common type of cancer in children, according to cancer.gov.
After the initial CAT scan at EMMC, her son was taken immediately to Boston Children’s Hospital where surgeons attempted on Sept. 26, 2013 to remove the cancer from the back of his head. They got about 90 percent, and the last year has been spent trying to eliminate the rest through chemotherapy and radiation.
“He went through all of his rounds of chemo — there were five — and had one week off at a time,” Kimberly Tripp said. “His last round of chemo in his brain had a super high potency, so it killed his bone marrow.”
Doctors knew this was going to happen and had harvested Tripp’s bone marrow and froze it so they could do a transplant using his own blood-making tissue.
The technique is an aggressive type of therapy devised by his doctors at EMMC and CancerCare of Maine, in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital.
The doctors told them the recovery time after the transplant would be two months, but Tripp had other plans.
“Tripp was ready to go after a month. It’s always been like that,” his mom said. “Every single time they’ve set a standard level, he’s exceeding it.”
While she is hopeful, Kimberly Tripp acknowledges the odds are not in her son’s favor.
“After his second round of chemo, he had an MRI and there were no signs of cancer,” she said. “That was October .”
Tripp finished up the remaining three rounds of chemo, had the bone marrow transplant and then had around 100 days of rest.
“He was allowed to go back to having a semi-normal lifestyle,” his mom said.
Trippy let his hair grow and the tuft of a single curl stood out on his forehead. The family took pictures.
That all changed at a 3-month checkup in October when three new lesions were found. The decision was made to try radiation, and to start almost immediately.
“He did 31 rounds of radiation,” she said. “He finished up Dec. 17.”
Tripp has lost his hair, which he’s not happy about, and he’s not eating enough, but the 3-year-old is holding his own, his mom said.
“He got the okay to go to school,” Kimberly Tripp said of pre-k program at the nearby Downeast School.
He turns 4 in May and his first year of school starts in the fall.
Kimberly Tripp is not alone with taking care of her three children. She has a team of support made up of her mother, Ellen Query, her fiance, Shawn Gray, the children’s father, Joe Murray Jr., and his mother, Cheryl Gibson.
The staff at the hospitals and treatment centers are their second family, Kimberly Tripp said, listing several names. They really try to treat the entire family, she said, adding that her oldest daughter, who had a hard time when she realized how deadly cancer can be, is now in play therapy.
The children have also been adopted by two sports teams at the University of Maine and recently returned from a Make A Wish trip to Disneyland. The Black Bear hockey team adopted Tripp and the girls were adopted by the Black Bear softball team.
Kimberly Tripp has MaineCare that covers the cost of the medical care for her son, but there are always other costs that are not covered, such as transportation. A friend of hers hopes to raise funds for the family through an event on Feb. 1 in Bangor.
Tunes for Tripp, an all-day live music event hosted by friend Randy Blevins at the Elks Club on the Odlin Road, kicks off at 1 p.m., with Bangor classic rock band Overdrive. A different band will follow each hour ending with Crossin’ Mason Dixon from western Maine at 7 p.m. and Country Camo, a new country band from the Bangor area, at 8 p.m.
Entrance to the event, which also includes an auction, 50-50 raffle and food for sale, is by donation.
After Kimberly Tripp got the results of the MRI on Wednesday, she posted the details on her Facebook page.
“We got the fantastic news we were hoping for today!! Tripp’s 3 tumors are gone.”