BANGOR, Maine — Less than a month ago, 2-year-old Tripp Jackson Murray was at a local play area when his mother noticed something wasn’t right with the toddler, who usually spent his time running around.
“He fell twice,” Kimberly Tripp said Tuesday while her son sat on her lap at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
After the boy started to lose his balance, his mother also noticed one of his eyes was starting to turn inward. She immediately took him to EMMC.
“They did a CAT scan … [and] discovered a brain tumor on his cerebellum and brain stem,” she said while her son was undergoing a kidney function test. “It was about 2½-inches long.”
Tripp was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a life-threatening type of brain cancer.
He was rushed straight from EMMC to Boston Children’s Hospital on Sept. 21 and Massachusetts surgeons attempted on Sept. 26 to remove the cancer from the back of his head.
“They were able to remove about 90 percent,” Kimberly Tripp said, as her mother, Ellen Query, and friend, Jessica Stanley, stood nearby for support. “The other 10 percent had branched out into his brain stem.”
The brain stem controls breathing, heart rate, and nerves and muscles used in other basic body functions, the National Cancer Institute website states. Brain tumors are the third most common type of cancer in children, according to cancer.gov.
The plan is for Boston surgeons to go back in and remove more of the cancer cells, but first his doctors at EMMC and CancerCare of Maine are attempting to destroy as many of the diseased cells as possible.
Surgeons removed stem cells from the boy on Sunday that have been frozen for use in an aggressive type of therapy that his mother hopes will defeat the cancer that is attacking his brain.
The therapy includes high-dose chemotherapy to kill the cancer followed by a stem cell transplant using the harvested frozen healthy cells. The transplanted cells travel to the bone marrow and begin to produce new blood cells, according to the National Cancer Institute website.
“Next week, he’ll be here all week for chemo,” Kimberly Tripp said. “His chemotherapy is going to kill his blood cells. By adding the stem cells, his body will be able to produce his own blood cells.”
“If everything works out” they’ll take him to Massachusetts for a tentatively scheduled Nov. 11 stem cell transfusion, and then he’ll have another round of chemo, she said.
The little boy, wearing black low-top Converse All Star sneakers, was talkative on Tuesday before his procedure while taking off his socks and attempting to put them back on and teasing his grandmother by calling her “Bammy” instead of “Grammy” with a huge grin on his face.
“It makes him laugh, so I tease him about it,” Query said. “He’s had so many needle sticks in the last month. Anything that makes him laugh.”
The little boy got a grumpy look on his face when the anesthesiologist started to check his vital signs before the procedure that required him to be put to sleep for about 30 minutes. He whimpered a little, but only cried when he awoke. His mom quickly quieted him.
Query said she initially thought her grandson had an ear infection, but her daughter, who is enrolled at Beal College, knew right away it was something neurological. The hardest part of the last month, she said, has been watching her grandson lose the ability to run after his two older sisters, Kylee, 6, and Jordan, 4.
“The [lack of] walking is bugging him a little,” his grandmother said. “Kylee was saying last night how he’d chase her and try to grab the papers out of her backpack.”
The older sister really missed playing with him; both sisters do, she said.
“Before a month ago they all had ordinary, average lives [and now] that is completely upside down,” Kimberly Tripp said of her three children. “Before, I took that for granted.”
Her two daughters are staying with their dad, Joe Murray, and that has been hard on her, Kimberly Tripp said, even though the two get along.
“We’ve put our differences aside because it’s all about Tripp,” the boy’s grandmother said.
When the Beal College medical assistant student group heard about their fellow student’s plight, they decided to hold a benefit spaghetti dinner that is scheduled for 5-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at the Bangor Masonic Hall on Union Street, said student Aubri Doughty.
Kimberly Tripp has MaineCare that covers the cost of the medical care for her son, but she has struggled with finding the money to travel back and forth between Bangor, where her two daughters are staying, and the Massachusetts hospital.
“We all know he’s going to have to go back for more procedures,” Doughty said.
The hall was donated by the Masons and most of the items for the dinner, including the food, has been donated.
“Everybody has been really great with helping us pull this together,” Doughty said.
An event at the Denny’s restaurant on Monday called Tipps for Tripp also collected more than $2,000 toward the cause, Kimberly Tripp said, saying she is very thankful for the support from everyone.
When Kimberly Tripp first took her son into the hospital, she told the doctors, “don’t sugarcoat it.”
She wanted to know what her son was facing.
“He amazes me always,” she said of her son. “It amazes me what he can go through and how quickly he recovers. Six days after his brain surgery he was laughing like nothing else.”
Those interested in tickets to the dinner or finding out more about the benefit event can contact Aubri Doughty at 385-7103, Chris Urquhart at 570-6443 or Jessica Stanley at 404-3985.