MARS HILL, Maine — As a mother, Jennifer Boyd knew something was wrong four years ago, when her then 6-year-old son, Wendell Boyd, began vomiting every morning and would return home from school with his snack sitting uneaten in his bag.
Doctors believed that he had an ulcer, Jennifer Boyd said Monday, so she was prepared to hear that diagnosis when doctors conducted tests to confirm it.
What she and her husband, Lambert Boyd Jr., weren’t prepared to hear was that their son had a brain tumor.
“When the doctor told me that, I screamed so loud that I am sure people heard me out in the waiting room,” Boyd said. “It was the worst day of my life.”
Four years later, however, she can smile again.
Wendell Boyd is still recovering but thriving and helping to raise awareness and money for the Maine chapter of the American Cancer Society. In the last two years, he has raised more than $5,500 for the organization, mostly through using a unique fundraising idea — to “flush out” the disease.
The family had some fun looking up ideas online and on social media sites and eventually settled last year on painting an old toilet purple, planting some flowers in it and then placing it on some family’s lawn. To have the not-so-elegant lawn ornament removed, or to have it put on someone else’s lawn, the recipient would have to donate $10 to $20 to the Cancer Society. Local residents also could buy “toilet insurance” for $30 to avoid having the ornament placed on their property.
Wendell Boyd said that after he put the first toilet out on someone’s lawn and people heard about it, “everyone wanted one.”
Last year, Wendell was one of the top fundraisers for the Cancer Society Relay For Life efforts in Aroostook County, collecting more than $2,500 with his toilet and other efforts that his family and classmates helped him with. This year he expanded to two toilets — one in Easton and another in Mars Hill — and raised more than $3,100.
Jennifer Boyd still recalls how difficult it was to learn four years ago about her son’s diagnosis of j uvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, or JPA. The rare childhood brain tumor increases pressure on the brain, causing a variety of symptoms, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.
They include headaches, nausea, vomiting, balance problems and vision abnormalities.
After his diagnosis, Wendell underwent two brain surgeries within a short period of time, was hospitalized for 46 days, was confined to a wheelchair for a time and needed assistance to regain his speech, according to his mother.
Now cancer-free, she said Monday, her son has successfully returned to school, relearned how to ride a bike and even is back skiing, playing soccer and basketball with his friends. Though he still needs some support, Jennifer Boyd said that he has “come a long way.”
“To think of where he was four years ago to where he is now always makes me emotional,” she said. “I am so lucky because I was able to walk out of the hospital with my child and a lot of families aren’t so fortunate. He’s amazing.”