At St. Jude, Eli's nurses fawn over him. He giggles when they smile at him and loves the attention. He's a remarkably happy baby, and people are drawn to him. His mother jokes he has an "entourage." It's hard to reconcile Eli now with the very sick little baby who came to St. Jude in 2012.
It all started back home in Iowa when Eli was only 5 months old. Eli's soft spot was swollen and looked like a bruise on the top of his head. His worried parents took him to the doctor. There, the staff did an ultrasound of his brain and saw something suspicious. An MRI revealed the presence of a mass, and a biopsy was done. His parents had nothing to do but wait and worry. When the news finally came, it was horrifying. Eli's mother remembers the call from Eli's dad. "We need to go to the hospital," he told her. "Eli has a brain tumor."
"I just sat there and cried and cried," said Eli's mom. "I couldn't even move. It was devastating. I was so scared he was going to die." Luckily, Eli's dad knew about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital because his parents had donated for years. "Pineoblastoma is very rare," Eli's mom said. "St. Jude has the most experience with it, and that's really what brought us here."
The family packed their car the next day and drove to St. Jude. By the time Eli got to St. Jude, the tumor had almost doubled in size. His St. Jude doctors went to work right away.
"When you get to St. Jude, you feel safe and comfortable," said his mom. "Everyone smiles at you and gives you respect. Everybody is there to help you."
Eli began a treatment plan that included months of chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumor and proton beam radiation therapy. "He's always been really good with the nurses, and with the dressing changes. Nothing seems to faze him," Eli's mom said.
But there was a scary moment after Eli's surgery. Eli's parents worried that he had lost his happy spark.
"We were very afraid his personality would change after the surgery, and for a couple of days, he didn't laugh," said Eli's mom. "He didn't smile at anyone. So we were like, 'Oh no, is he gone?' And then his older brother, Jude, came in, and he lit up."
Eli is back home now and cancer free. Being well means Eli will have a future of happy playtime with his older brother.
"Eli thinks Jude is the funniest thing to walk the planet," his mom said. "I really love seeing the bond they have as brothers, even before Eli is old enough to realize there is a bond. And it's been there from the very beginning."
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