Brian, 8, is a childhood cancer survivor and patient of Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center (JJCCC) at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. He stands strong as his royal purple cape blows in the breeze and his smile brightens the day.
Brian isn’t an ordinary kid. In fact he’s a superhero, “Iron Boy.” A name he was dubbed for fearlessly facing surgery to remove a brain tumor, followed by radiation and chemotherapy — all with an everlasting grin. Cancer is a scary diagnosis and often the last thing parents and even doctors might expect with a healthy child.
Brian’s story with cancer starts in 2015. Brian zoomed around at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America with endless energy. Then, as if overnight, a vibrant Brian, suddenly lost his energy and started suffering from sudden headaches that came like thunderclaps. His only comfort was sleep. He would immediately hop into bed once he was home, covering his face with his pillow waiting for the pain to subside, falling asleep almost instantly.
Soon after came the vomiting, which persisted almost every other day. Brian had trouble keeping down food. His parents knew something was wrong with their happy boy.
In a span of three weeks, Brian struggled to stay awake. He napped on bus rides, and at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America he fell asleep on tables and bleachers. One evening, Brian’s dad overheard his son asking himself, “Why can’t I stay up? What’s wrong with me?”
“It broke my heart,” said Brian Perry, Sr., Brian’s father. “It was another alarming moment that signaled that something was wrong. All I wanted was to help my son and take away the pain.”
Brian’s parents shared their concerns with their pediatrician and a computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was ordered.
Brian was rushed to imaging to receive a CT scan. After a 10-minute wait they received a phone call from Brian’s pediatrician. The words “oh my God” left Denean, Brian’s mom’s, lips, her voice cracking. They were escorted to a private space where Denean shared that a brain tumor was found on Brian’s brain.
The Perry’s hurried to the emergency department (ED) at Miller Children’s where they were partnered with Krista Warren, MSN, solid tumor nurse practitioner, JJCCC, who stayed by the Perry’s side and helped navigate Brian’s care from the point of diagnoses on. Nurse navigators are a critical part of the multi-disciplinary care team at JJCCC.
Brian arrived on a Thursday evening and was scheduled for surgery that Friday at noon.
Ramin J. Javahery, pediatric neurosurgeon, Miller Children’s, discussed the planned surgical procedure and counseled the Perry family on next steps — Brian’s parents felt comfort knowing Brian’s life was in the best hands.
“Brian was in danger of slipping into a coma at any moment, we needed to remove the tumor as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Javahery. “From the moment a child arrives in the ED we have a responsibility to provide them and their family with the highest quality of care. With help from a world-class team, the removal of Brian’s brain tumor took approximately five hours.”
Brian endured a 20 day hospital stay; 10 of which were spent in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Post-surgery, Brian underwent tough treatments, including radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays after surgery to kill any remaining tumor cells. Radiation therapy is one type of aggressive cancer treatments used for brain tumors.
Radiation therapy requires patients to stay very still so the radiation goes to the exact same place each time. Many children Brian’s age have trouble lying still for radiation therapy and require sedation. Waldo Guzman, radiation therapist, JJCCC, worked closely with Brian to help him learn how to stay still during radiation therapy. Thanks to Waldo’s support and Brian’s determination, Brian was able to forgo sedation.
“This is just one of many examples that speak to Brian’s strength,” said Krista. “Brian was so strong and brave throughout his treatment. He is an inspiration to everyone.”
Cancer tried to overcome Brian, but thanks to Brian’s superhero strength, his parent’s instincts, and his care team, Brian is cancer-free and able to share his smile another day.