Friday, February 19, 2010 - This was the story they did for the Waterloo - Cedar Falls Courier here in town. "Oliver's Story"
WATERLOO - When Ed and Stacy Palmer learned their son Oliver had an inoperable brain tumor, they were focused on getting him treatment.
Doctors said the 8-year-old Edison Elementary School student needed six weeks of radiation treatment at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to stop the tumor from growing and extend his life for another nine months to a year. But that wasn't his parents' only concern.
They also had to think about their other children: 7-year-old Eden, 2-year-old Jaren and 2-month-old Phineas. The baby was born just weeks before Oliver was diagnosed Dec. 23, 2009.
"We wanted it to be as normal as possible," said Stacy, a stay-at-home mom.
That's why Ed and Oliver made the trek to Iowa City every weekday from Dec. 31 to Feb. 11 while Stacy stayed at home with the younger children. Oliver has been off school since winter break, and Ed took unpaid leave from his second-shift supervisory job at John Deere Engine Works. By returning home every day, the family could maintain some of the normalcy.
Despite their efforts, that has been difficult. Oliver's diagnosis "altered everything; it affected everything," Ed said. They have struggled with giving adequate time and attention to all of their children.
Friends have helped by delivering meals and baby-sitting or doing special activities with the children.
Friends also have organized fundraising efforts to help with costs for food, gas, medical bills and other living expenses, including a benefit set for Saturday.
"People have been amazing," Stacy said. The response from the community "kind of restored my faith in people."
Oliver's health concerns began shortly after Phineas was born. Ed, who had taken leave from work following the birth, noticed Oliver tucking his head down and looking up through his eyebrows one day. Oliver told him he was seeing double.
They took him to the doctor, who ordered an MRI. Results showed the tumor, which was diagnosed as pontine glioma.
"It's a very aggressive rare form of brain cancer, and there's only 150 to 200 cases a year" in the U.S., Stacy said. "It started with the double vision and then rapidly after that he would trip and fall a lot."
Oliver also began having trouble swallowing. Doctors put him on a steroid to help the problem.
Oliver said he was scared to start the radiation treatment "because it was my first time." After that, he found the 10-minute treatments "relaxing."
Oliver's hair also began falling out because of the radiation.
"I think it's been the hardest part for him," Ed said. "He's never without a hat now."
The radiation treatments have stopped the tumor's growth, a period doctors call the "honeymoon phase." After six to nine months, the growth is expected to begin again. There is no other effective treatment for tumor.
"It's very rapid after that," Ed said.
For now, things are as normal as they can be. Oliver is expected to return to school Monday. And Ed is back on the day shift he used to work at John Deere before becoming a supervisor.
The switch in shifts "allows me to just spend time with Oliver now," Ed said.
It's hard for Ed and Stacy not to think about the inevitable end for Oliver after the tumor begins growing again, but that's not their focus now.
"I refuse to mourn for him now," Ed said. "I want to capitalize on what we have now."