On Friday, Amanda McBride sat on her living room couch recalling how much her son Jaiden loved playing football. He was so active, she says, that she thought nothing of it when, during the spring of 2011, he started complaining about pain in his left leg.
Probably a bruise, she thought. Maybe a sprain or a pulled muscle. Typical kid-sports stuff.
But after his complaints became persistent, she took him to an emergency room to get checked out. Doctors sent him for an X-ray.
It found a mass – one that turned out to be cancer. Osteosarcoma, to be precise – a tumor growing inside his bone.
Last week, while Amanda McBride told the story, Jaiden, who turned 13 on Feb. 23, was asleep upstairs in a back bedroom, while McBride’s mother sat watch next to him. In his right hand, he held a bright orange cross, clutched near his cheek. Next to his left hand was a stuffed red cardinal – a recent gift. The mascot of the Metro Youth Sports football team on which Jaiden once played was a cardinal.
A few weeks ago, doctors told the family they weren’t sure how much longer Jaiden had to live. But it wouldn’t be very long, his mother said. Indeed, the boy died this past weekend after a three-year journey that, at one point, looked as if his cancer had been beaten.
“He was in remission for 18 months,” says McBride, a community nursing assistant on leave from her job at Lutheran Life Villages’ South Anthony Boulevard campus in Fort Wayne.
The first diagnosis barely fazed her son, McBride, 31, says. “He was just a trouper. He took it in and didn’t ask many questions,” she says.
He breezed through a biopsy, and the family decided on chemotherapy, which required repeated travel to a hospital in Indianapolis for months. The chemo made him sick, and “he lost a lot of weight” and his hair, his mother says.
“In the beginning, they said we would be in the hospital more than we would be home, and we were in the hospital way more than we were home,” she says.
The next step, after the tumor shrank, was surgery, in which a donated cadaver bone – actually an arm bone – was placed upside down from its usual position to replace the leg bone where the tumor had lodged. Jaiden had 32 stitches and another procedure when part of the scar didn’t heal properly.
He was in a wheelchair after surgery but eventually went to crutches for about six months, his mother says. He did homebound instruction and, when he was up to it, went to sixth grade at Prince Chapman Academy, where teachers and staff were “incredibly supportive,” she says.
“Eventually, we got him off crutches, and he could walk with a limp. He maintained it for some time,” she says.
Jaiden was back to his old self – playing the video game “Call of Duty,” talking about going fishing, paying attention to girls at school and riding his bike “against my better judgment,” his mom says. “He would go play basketball behind my back.”
Then, in July, he had a friend sleep over, and in the morning, she says, the friend prompted her son to tell her what had happened in the middle of night, when he woke up with pain in his chest. He had had it before, and she knew something was going on.
“When he was finished with chemo … they told me if (the cancer) were ever to come back, it would come back in his lungs,” she says. “I got up right there and took him to the hospital.”
When they met with the oncologist, Lutheran Hospital’s Dr. Dennis O’Brien, this time, he didn’t have good news. “He said the cancer had returned, and it was going to be terminal, but we could do chemo to buy time,” McBride says.
This time, she says, Jaiden “was upset.” He didn’t want to lose his hair. “I told him it grew back before, and he had to try.”
He did, but the chemotherapy didn’t work. The spots on his lungs were still growing and spreading to his liver. Doctors tried two other kinds of chemo, but they didn’t work, either, so by the end of December, the treatments were ended.
Then came more symptoms in quick order. McBride says her son started getting little lumps, like knots under his skin, that would move around – small tumors. Then Jaiden told her his arm and leg would go numb, and his speech started to slur.
“I thought that he’d had a stroke,” McBride says. So it was off to the hospital again. This time, an MRI test found spots of cancer in his brain.
It was time for another tough sit-down with the oncologist.
He told Jaiden he had three choices – more chemo, which would likely make him sick and keep him in the hospital; radiation; and doing nothing. “He was pretty tore up about it,” McBride says of the doctor.
“Jaiden said he was not doing chemo at all, but he’d try radiation,” she says. “But it was harder and harder for him to walk, and it was to the point that I had to help him to the bathroom.”
The day of the radiation appointment came.
“I don’t want to go,” Jaiden said that morning.
His mother, helping him dress, says she made sure that he wasn’t just temporarily tired or sleepy.
“I asked, ‘Do you know what that means?’ ”
“Yes,” he said.
She says she felt she had to support his choice, despite his youth, despite her own breaking heart.
“I don’t blame him,” she says. “His body was not … strong enough (for treatment).”
He was the only one who could really know what he could take, she says.
The final days
So plans were made for in-home hospice care – and to have a 13th birthday party for Jaiden at the end of last month. McBride, mother of three other children – Javon, 14, Jabreea, 11, and Jayvion, 7 – says the house quickly filled with relatives and friends – maybe 30, maybe 50.
Some were part of Team Jaiden, which had formed for a September fundraising walk sponsored by the Fort Wayne chapter of CureSearch, which supports research in pediatric cancers.
Visitors brought gifts and balloons for Jaiden, who wasn’t able to get up that day, his mother says. But “he had a few bites of (birthday) cake,” she says.
She says she is grateful for the support she has gotten from co-workers, teachers at Prince Chapman and from people she doesn’t even know through a website, #TeamJaiden, at www.gofundme.com.
She says she is able to pay her family’s living expenses and has health insurance for the children, including Jaiden. Her mother, Mary McBride, and her brother, Daniel McBride, helped by staying with Jaiden around the clock.
Nonetheless, says former nursing co-worker Jennifer Rao, there are times she knows McBride is struggling. “Sometimes,” Rao says, “I think if you blew on her, you’d knock her over.”
Jaiden’s pain was controlled with medicine, and McBride says she is sure he knew he was surrounded by love, family and friends at the end.
The funeral will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Imani Baptist Temple, 2920 Indiana Ave., with calling hours at the church at 9 a.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at D.O. McComb & Sons, 1140 Lake Ave.
The best outcome as she and her son said goodbye too soon, McBride says, is simple: “Just that everybody keeps praying for us.”
She adds: “I just think it’s important to keep God first and trust in him.”