Patient Story: Nick

Nick Swafford - NeuroOncology

Today, Nick is happy and healthy.

It was a time of joy and possibilities for Susan Kramer Swafford and her family. She had opened her store, Mini & Me, and learned that she was pregnant two months later, with her ninth child. Then, everything changed.

Her 8-year-old second-grader, Nick, wasn’t feeling well. She didn’t think much of his symptoms at first; he complained of stomach pain and would throw up on occasion. But as these symptoms continued, Nick was taken for gastrointestinal testing and had neurological exams to rule out something more serious. He passed all the neurological tests, but subsequently, when Nick couldn’t hit the ball during baseball tryouts, he went to see an eye doctor.

It was a trip to the ER after Nick threw up blood that uncovered the reason for his symptoms. He still passed his neurological exams, but a CT scan showed a tumor the size of an orange, in the part of his brain that controls motor function. Nick was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children. And less than 24 hours later, he was in surgery to have it removed.

Susan recalls that everyone was surprised at how calm she seemed during the diagnosis and emergency surgery. “I was in shock to be honest,” she says. “I went into some kind of out-of-body mom defense mechanism. I thought, ‘Oh great, Nick, now we finally know what’s wrong with you and can make you better!’”

Six weeks of daily radiation and 55 weeks of chemotherapy followed. Susan says that Dr. John Crawford, Nick’s neuro-oncologist, was “the kind of doctor needed in that space and time.” For his treatment, Nick was enrolled in a research study.

Friends When You Need Them Most

Nick’s friends rallied around him to help him get through his treatment. The thing that touched Susan the most was when his friends at school shaved their heads to support him. His best friend, Bennett, kept his head shaved the entire time Nick went through chemotherapy. Bennett was by his side every step of the way.

Nick also had friends in other places. Through an organization called Friends of Jacqueline, which connects high school and college teams with children with brain tumors, Nick was “adopted” by the San Diego State University baseball team.

With these caring friends, a dedicated doctor, and support from a loving family, Nick made it through the treatment. And despite all he has been through, you would never know what he has endured, unless you see his surgery scar.

Published June 2014