From a Mother of a Survivor: Keeping a Family Strong

Seth Ostrander
Seth cutting down the nets as the varsity student manager.
Seth Ostrander just two months prior to his diagnosis.

From a Mother of a Survivor: Keeping a Family Strong

Friday, May 11, 2018

Everyone knows that mothers are special people. Many moms are juggling busy schedules, packing lunches, attending events, volunteering at school, helping with homework, washing clothes, cleaning the house and trying to keep the family boat afloat! All these things are true for one central Nebraska mom, but added in are additional duties that come with the care and concern of having a child with brain cancer.

Melissa Ostrander has found an inner strength she didn’t know existed until 2012 when her youngest of three sons, Seth, was diagnosed with Pilocytic Astrocytoma Grade 1 brain tumor. Seth was only 13 years old and life as the Ostrander’s knew it, changed rapidly.

“This is going to sound strange, but after the initial shock of hearing those five words ‘Seth has a brain tumor’ it was relief. We finally had an answer even though we would soon realize how severe the situation really was.  We didn’t know any other kids with brain tumors, so we had no idea what was in store for Seth and how those five words would dramatically change our lives forever,” Seth’s mom, Melissa, said.       

Prior to his diagnosis, Seth had been to the doctors several times.  He was rapidly declining and all the tests they performed weren’t revealing any reason for him to be sleeping up to 20 hours a day.  He had only been in seventh grade for eight days before he was home with headaches and sleeping most of the time.  Soon after, Seth’s family brought him in for a CT scan that revealed a large egg size tumor.   He was placed in an ambulance as soon as possible that afternoon and we headed to Children’s Hospital in Omaha for surgery. After his diagnosis, Seth completed 14 months of chemotherapy. Over a year later, Seth's 13th MRI showed tumor stability and he "graduated" to six-month scans.

“Brain tumor never crossed our minds and I really don't know why...I guess family history of headaches and other illnesses kept us from believing or thinking the worse.”

As the mother of a child with cancer, Melissa has learned many things. “Once you hear those dreaded words for the first time you become your child’s advocate.  Take notes, don’t be scared to ask too many questions, and reach out to other moms or families for support.  In addition to the ongoing prayers from family and friends, the other thing that helped us through the two years Seth was in treatment was the friendships we made with other families at the hospital.  We still are in contact with many of the families we met in the infusion room.”

In addition to funding research and raising awareness for pediatric brain cancer, the Team Jack Foundation has created a family support group called, the “Team Jack Family”.  This group connects families all over the Midwest with children who have been diagnosed with brain cancer or who have lost a child to brain cancer for support and friendship.

“We still lean on our Team Jack Family today.  Many families we met during treatment and even more as the years go on.  No matter what stage we are all on in this cancer journey we are all there for each other whenever we may need the love and support of someone who knows exactly what we are going through.  Nobody needs to fight alone,” said Melissa.

From her own mother, Melissa learned to always to do the right thing for her family. Melissa’s father was diagnosed with dementia just a few months after Seth’s brain cancer diagnosis. Her mother set a great example of taking care of a loved one unconditionally, as she was the sole caregiver for her father for five years, until he passed this past January.

“Her ‘never-give-up-attitude’ and devotion to my dad’s care was an inspiration to me while I was caring for Seth during his two years of treatment,” Melissa recalled.

For children who survive this disease, brain cancer sometimes causes a permanent disability.  Children face physical, mental and neurological deficits forever.

There have many challenging times for Melissa since Seth’s diagnosis and treatment. The most difficult thing for Melissa has been to see him unable to play basketball. “Basketball had been his passion and since he was a head taller than all the others on his team over the years, he really played well and was fun to watch on the court.”

One month after his second surgery, during his eighth-grade year, Seth tried to get back on the court.

“I was so proud to see him try and was thankful his coaches let him try, but it was also hard to watch him struggle doing something that had been so easy and natural to him. He could hardly run down the court and it was hard for him to see the ball being passed to him.” Although unable to play sports, Seth has remained a part of the basketball team by being the varsity team student manager for the past six years.  

For Seth, his mom has always been encouraging, especially through his brain tumor battle.

“My mom is unique because she has a never ever give up attitude in life, especially when she is encouraging me in my brain tumor battle,” Seth said.

Just last weekend, Seth hit another milestone and graduated from high school. This fall he plans to attend college at Wayne State College and major in Math Education, where one day he hopes to be a math teacher.  As Seth moves to this new chapter of his life, there is one piece of advice that especially sticks out that his mom gave him:

“One thing that my mom has always told my brothers and me is to finish whatever you start.  This advice can hold true with anything, whether it be as simple as a board game or a project.  This advice will be helpful for me, as I am heading off to college. I’m sure that I’ll have several reasons why I want to quit, but I just need to think of the advice that my mom gave me-- always finish what you start.”

When a child is diagnosed with a brain tumor, mom is there keeping her family strong in the face of adversity and fear. The unselfish willingness to give up their time and energy for the love of their children is what makes mothers, just like Melissa, so special.  She would do whatever it takes to provide her child a healthy, happy future. 

 "She is always more than willing to support me and give up some of her own time, make sure I am able to the things I want to do,” Seth said.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Support the Team Jack Foundation this Mother’s Day by donating to pediatric brain cancer research—so one day, we can find a cure and no mother has to see their child suffer this horrific disease.

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