In honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we would like to introduce you to Zakkry (Zakk). Zakk lives in North Dakota with his family. In January of 2016, at just 10-years-old and in the 5th grade, he was diagnosed with a Medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor that starts at the base of the skull. These tumors tend to spread to other parts of the brain and to the spinal cord.
Zakk had notable regression in his fine motor skills, particularly in math and his handwriting – they were initially seen as a lack of effort. He also started to lose his coordination which was passed off as nothing because he was going through a growth phase. In December of 2015, Zakk started complaining of headaches and other symptoms. These symptoms were passed off as a sinus infection.
After several doctor visits, a CT scan that identified pressure at the base of his skull with the cause unknown, and an MRI, it was determined that a mass was resting in the 4th ventricle of his brain on his cerebellum.
“For the first several weeks, we lived in what seemed like a fog and unfortunately, that is the period, of time that doctors were meeting with us initially and explaining the details of our son’s treatment plan,” said Zakk’s dad. “If we could go back, I would recommend having a friend or family member (or even a hospital social worker) sit by your side and take notes. Much of the time, we were either in tears or shock (or both) and not able to comprehend or remember most of what we were told.”
In January of 2016, Dr. Joseph Petronio at Children’s Hospitals of Minnesota in St. Paul performed a surgical removal of the tumor. Days of recovery followed and, ten days later, Zakk was discharged from the hospital. At the beginning of February 2016, Zakk and his mother left North Dakota for Jacksonville, Florida. He was referred to another specialist at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute and began a series of 30 radiation treatments. After 3 long months of being away, Zakk was able to return home in April.
In May, Zakk embarked on the last phase of his treatment – chemotherapy where he returned to The Children’s Hospital of Minnesota in Minneapolis for a long seven months.
Zakkry received his last chemotherapy treatment in November 2016. In January of 2017, one year after his diagnosis, he had his first post-treatment scan and was officially declared: “IN REMISSION.”
“What got us through the hardest days of Zakk’s cancer journey was simply having faith in God and realizing that we couldn’t control the situation,” said Zakk’s dad, “but he could, and we needed to trust in His plan, even when it scared us and didn’t seem fair.”
“When dealing with the medical world trust your gut and stand firm on your feelings and beliefs.
“One of our doctors gave us this advice…. Accept any and all offers of help, you are no longer allowed to say, no. If you try to go it alone, you will not succeed. From our experience, our lives became busier and more expensive than we would have ever thought possible and without accepting help, we would have gone bankrupt, enduring 10 times the stress trying to care for our son through his cancer treatment, as well as providing our other children their “normal” life of school and activities.”
Zakk is now an active 8th grader with tennis in the fall, swimming in the winter, and last year he was on the golf team in the spring (though he doesn’t know if he wants to do that again)!
Zakk and his parents still need to travel to Minneapolis for follow-up care and Miracle Flights is here to help. Miracle Flights has provided 5 flights to care thus far and will continue to be with him through his journey to health.
We are grateful to his father for sharing their story and providing advice for other families on their journey to health. To find out more about Miracle Flights and how to request a miracle flight, visit www.miracleflights.org.