Sometimes, life changing events start innocently enough.
When 11-year-old Tate Maurer told his parents, Katie and Mark Maurer of Waconia, that he had a headache and that his jaw hurt one Sunday last November, there was no real cause for alarm. A few days later, though, when Katie noticed swelling on the left side of Tate’s jaw, she decided to get take him to the doctor. An infected parotid gland was the initial diagnosis. Just to be safe, the Maurers decided to get a second opinion.
On Tate’s 12th birthday, the day before Thanksgiving, he had a CT scan done at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia. While waiting for the results, the Maurers decided to do some grocery shopping.
“About 45 minutes later, the doctor called us and told us, ‘I think you need to go down to Children’s,’” Katie recalled. “I’ll never forget that moment. We were in the parking lot at Mackenthun’s when we got the call. My stomach hit the floor. I gave the phone to Mark and I said, ‘You need to talk to them because I can’t.’ My stomach still hasn’t come back up since that day, I’m pretty sure.”
The next day, while other families worried about turkeys and mashed potatoes, the Maurers’ minds were filled with the unknown. They left for Children’s Hospital first thing in the morning and proceeded to spend about seven hours in the emergency department. It was then that they learned that Tate had cancer.
“Tate heard he had cancer the same time we heard he had cancer. It’s a moment we’ll never forget,” Katie said. “There are no words to describe what it is like to watch your child’s face when they are told they have cancer. That moment will be burned into my memory forever.”
Tate was diagnosed with Stage III Burkitt Lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a group of cancers that affect white blood cells). With Tate, doctors found a tumor the size of a woman’s fist in his jaw area along with a couple of cancerous spots in his abdomen and pancreas.
According to her research, Katie said approximately 800 children are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma each year and only about 100 of them are diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma, which afflicts boys twice as often as girls. Fortunately, doctors told the Maurers that Tate’s cancer has a high cure rate, a revelation that produced some needed optimism during a difficult time.
Tate began treatment on Nov. 28, starting with the insertion of a double lumen portacath into his chest so he could receive his chemotherapy. Tate has been receiving chemotherapy treatments every three to four weeks, with each in-patient procedure lasting approximately five to six days.
“The treatment for Burkitt’s is one of the most aggressive chemotherapy treatments that they do,” Katie said. “After the treatment, his immune system is virtually shut down to nothing and he’s very susceptible to life threatening fevers and viruses. He simply can’t fight them off.”
If Tate’s temperature reaches 100.5 degrees, he is immediately taken back to Children’s.
“The chemotherapy can also cause very painful mouth sores and stomach ulcers which sometimes can only be managed by strong painkillers and if he gets a fever over 100.5 they immediately start him on a full spectrum of antibiotics,” said Katie, who noted that Tate has spent more than 35 days in the hospital since his ordeal began.
“He’s currently back in the hospital for his fourth round,” Katie said. “This round has been more difficult than the previous ones because some new chemotherapy drugs have been introduced. We didn’t know what to expect. We were told it could be better or it could be worse. It’s been worse.”
Despite the recent tough treatments, the Maurers have reason for hope.
“He has one more in patient treatment after this round and if his scans come back clean at that time, he could potentially be cured,” Katie explained. “It’s hard to see through the here and now but we’re optimistic that he will be cured.”
As for Tate himself, his spirits have been lifted thanks to the support of his family, which includes younger sister Anneliese, friends and classmates.
Tate is a sixth grader at Clearwater Middle School in Waconia. Last week, students and staff kicked off the Pennies for Patients fundraiser, which raises money to fight blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma and provide services for patients and their families. Tate was chosen as one the school’s designated kids for the fundraiser. One can make a donation to the cause at Mackenthun’s Fine Foods in Waconia.
“He got to see his friends at the kick off event, which really lifted his spirits,” Katie said.
Last December, more than 100 students — some were friends of Tate, others didn’t even know him — shaved their heads in a show of support for Tate during the “Shave Your Lid for this Brave Kid” event at Clearwater. Other students participated in a similar gesture during a Locks of Love / St. Baldrick’s Foundation event held at Southview Elementary School in Waconia in January.
“He’s very stoic and he has a sense of ‘this is what we have to do so let’s do it and get it done,’” Katie said. “That’s not to say that he doesn’t have some dark days where he doesn’t think he can get through it anymore. We pray together, we cry together. He knows that Mark and I are standing right beside him in all of this.”
Katie said it’s difficult to watch her son go through the treatments. She recalled how she once told Tate that if she could, she would take all the pain and suffering on for him. Tate, ever the trooper, told Katie he knew she would — but he wouldn’t let her even if it was possible. The compassion shown by her son isn’t a surprise — Katie said Tate has been emphatic to others “since the day he came out of the womb.”
“Tate has this bazillion dollar smile,” Katie said. “If he can give me that smile, I know he’s okay.”
Katie and Mark thanked the community for all of the support it has given them these past few months.
“We’re overwhelmed by all of the support from the community,” Katie said. “I can’t imagine any other community that I would want to live in and be a part of. It’s astounding how much people care. We’ve received so much from friends we know well and friends we haven’t met yet.”
Two events have been planned to help the Maurers with medical bills. The first is a spaghetti dinner and silent auction that will be held at the Chanhassen American Legion from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit Tate’s Caring Bridge website at www.caringbridge.org/tatemaurer.
The second event is a special basketball event sponsored by the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation that will be held at Glencoe-Silver Lake High School in Glencoe on Saturday, April 6.
The mission of the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation is to assist, financially or otherwise, children in the west central Minnesota area who are facing substantial medical expenses incurred as a result of a serious accident or illness. The first benefit was held in 1996 for a young athlete, Tim Orth, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Tate is one of nine children that will benefit from the event in 2013.
According to Ralph Johnson with the foundation, the event draws up to 1,500 people and all of the proceeds from admission, concessions, the silent auction, cash donations, and other sources will be split up among the families of the selected children. The event features two basketball games featuring area high school seniors. A girls game will start at 6 p.m. and a boys game will be played at 8 p.m. Entertainment — including a demonstration by Laketown Gymnastics, dance groups, and the Twin Cities Unicycle Club — will also be featured.
Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for children 18 & under. For more information, check out www.timorthfoundation.org.
Although the past months have been challenging, the Maurers are looking forward to brighter days ahead.
“You have to find the blessings in all of this,” Katie said. “We knew Waconia was a great place to live. We didn’t know the depth of kindness that is in the community. You realize how important it is to take some action when you learn about these types of situations, whether it’s a note, a text, a meal … take some sort of action. That’s what we’ll do when we’re on the other side of this. There’s so much bad news out there. This has made us realize how much good is out there, too.”
Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]