“Mitch was nauseated, having headaches, and his vision was doubled. I thought the symptoms were sinus related because it was the middle of April, and we live in Louisiana. But, after two or three weeks, he wasn’t getting any better. On April 23, 2017, Mitch started vomiting along with his headaches, and wanting to knock out the symptoms once and for all, I took him to a walk-in clinic,” shares Schelle Maclean, Mitch’s mom.
While at the clinic, the doctor couldn’t diagnose him, and Mitch’s headache wasn’t getting any better. Since the clinic couldn’t do a brain scan, the Macleans were encouraged to bring him to the hospital. “I didn’t know if they were just being overly precautious, but I remember before leaving, they made me sign a paper saying that I understood there could be dire circumstances for not getting him checked,” shares Schelle.
Once at the hospital, they learned that Mitch was suffering from a brain tumor, and he was diagnosed with Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Within seven hours, he was in his first surgery to drain the fluid that had built up on his head, which was ultimately causing the headaches. “It all happened so fast and it was overwhelming, but everything happens for a reason,” says Schelle.
The family was transferred to St. Jude Children’s Hospital upon learning just how bad the tumor was, and since that day, Mitch has undergone six neurosurgeries, gone through chemotherapy, and worked daily with therapists after developing Posterior Fossa Syndrome, a syndrome that often includes speech disturbances, dysphagia, and decreased motor movement. Schelle explains, “He went six months without speaking. Half of his body muscles didn’t work, and he couldn’t lift his right arm off the bed. He had to relearn how to walk and talk.”
Now, Mitch is talking again and only uses his wheelchair for going long distances. While he is still dealing with having double vision, he is far more improved from where he used to be, and he is consistently working to increase his strength.
The journey certainly hasn’t been an easy one, but Mitch has remained positive throughout it all. In December, he was declared cancer free and eventually transferred to Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation center in Atlanta. This April, a year after his diagnosis, Mitch was finally able to return home.
However, the journey doesn’t end there. Mitch will continue with outpatient therapy, will be speaking with an eye surgeon to correct his vision, and will work on strategies that will help him get through school. The doctors are hopeful that he will be able to start college next spring so he can begin working toward his dream of becoming a game developer, something he has always been passionate about.
Mitch’s sights are set on his future. His positive outlook and calmness throughout this entire experience is truly something to admire, and something the Macleans encourage everyone to have who may be going through similar situations. Schelle shares, “We discovered early on that it’s best to live in today only. Things change on a daily basis so live in the day. We would think of things like a checklist and say, ‘Okay, these are the things we need to get done so let’s do them.’ It’s too overwhelming if you don’t. You have to take everything one day at a time because if not, you will go crazy.”
Appointments will continue and hopefully more clean bills of health will follow, but for Mitch and Schelle, it’s about those who are going through similar experiences that they are looking out for. “When funds are raised for cancer research, only four percent actually goes to childhood cancer,” Schelle adds. “I want to encourage everyone to support St. Jude because childhood cancers are not as rare as you think.” ■