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Community rallies to support Sandy Hook student battling cancer

Jennifer Williams and Trent
Jennifer Williams and her son Trent sit on their couch after returning from another trip to Charlottesville, where Trent goes for weekly radiation treatments after being diagnosed with brain cancer on Oct. 20. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Trent Williams has a panda bear collection
Trent shows off his panda collection. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Trent Williams plays with a home video game
Trent plays with a video game at his Strasburg home. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Alex Bridges - abridges@nvdaily.com
STRASBURG -- Trent Williams likes pandas, playing football, riding his bicycle, and other activities typical for 6-year-old boys.

But Trent faces a long road to recovery in his fight against an aggressive form of brain cancer.

The boy's parents, Jennifer and Eric Williams, live with their 10-year-old son, Caden, and Trent's twin brother, Logan, in Strasburg.

Support for Trent and the Williams' plight keeps flowing in from the community. A fundraiser held Dec. 5 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the children attend, raised $10,500 through silent auctions, cake walks and other activities. Organizers had three weeks to put the event together, according to school employee Chrissy Jenkins.

"We just had overwhelming support -- from the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook, the parents, and then the community overall," Jenkins said. "It was a joint effort."

"People are always giving donations for him," Jenkins added.

Mrs. Williams' co-workers at Winchester Medical Center continue to support the family. Mrs. Williams, who worked part-time at the hospital until the diagnosis and treatment began, said co-workers have planned to bring gifts for the children to their home.
She called the support "absolutely amazing."

As the community pitches in to help, the family continues to adapt -- Trent and his mother stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Charlottesville from Sunday through Thursday for his treatments at the University of Virginia Medical Center. His father visits them when he has time, but mostly has to stay home to take care of their other children and keep up with his job at F.H. Furr, a plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractor. Other family members also have stepped in to help during the day, according to Mrs. Williams.

Trent looks fatigued and has lost his hair as a result of the surgery and treatments.

Logan and Caden have had different reactions.

"I don't think [Logan] really understands the severity of it," Mrs. Williams said. "Logan is more concerned about the fact that we're not here and that the routine is off."
"For the most part he just misses us, misses mommy being here," she added. "But Caden, on the other hand, he does understand the severity of it. He's very, very attentive to Trent."

The children knew about cancer before Trent's diagnosis. Their mother went through treatments for bone cancer when she was 9 years old and uses an artificial leg as the result of amputation.

"Now Trent knows that he has cancer," she said. "He basically has the same thing I had, going through the same stuff that I went through, although it's a different area and a different type."

Trent remains positive and even plays sports with some of the doctors at the hospital.
But Trent's cancer diagnosis Oct. 20 sent a shock through the entire family, Mrs. Williams recalled.

"It was unbelievable, I mean, to have somebody tell you something's severely wrong with your baby, it's gut-wrenching," she recalled. "I mean, we were both on our knees on the floor crying. It was so hard. It was an awful, awful thing to hear."

Trent's first symptoms appeared to point to a gastrointestinal problem, she said. Trent vomited at random moments, sometimes while playing football or during other activities, without feeling nauseous, she said. Trent underwent tests on his abdomen at Winchester Medical Center but doctors sent the boy to U.Va. when those came back with inconclusive results.

At U.Va., Mrs. Williams said, she told the gastroenterologist her son also had been experiencing sharp, severe but quick pains in his head.
"He would pull and claw at his face and scratch at his legs and you could just tell it was very painful," she recalled.

An MRI taken Oct. 20 of his head showed Trent had a plum-sized tumor near the cerebellum and the brain stem, according to Mrs. Williams. Surgeons removed the tumor during an eight-hour surgery, tested the mass and found it to be a medulloblastoma -- malignant and highly aggressive, she said.

A spinal tap indicated the cancer had not spread to the spine or the fluid, she said.
The family had little time to think during the days after his diagnosis and surgery followed by the beginning of his treatment.

His mother feared her past experience with cancer -- either through genetics or chemotherapy's affect on her reproductive system -- may have caused Trent's illness.
"It's definitely been a whirlwind, everything happening so quickly," Mrs. Williams said.
Doctors contacted colleagues at other nearby children's hospitals to determine how to treat patients with Trent's exact type of cancer, according to Mrs. Williams. The parents soon learned Trent would need 30 sessions of radiation treatment, spread across five days a week, followed by six to eight months of chemotherapy.

Doctors told the parents in the time immediately following treatments, Trent would behave similar to a newborn, with limited hand-eye coordination, and unable to walk or talk as well as he had, Mrs. Williams said.

"Our 6-year-old son who's been riding a bike and, you know, roller skating and playing with his brothers his entire life is gonna have to start all over again," Mrs. Williams recalled thinking at the time.

Trent likely will develop cataracts in the next two to five years as a result of the radiation beamed into the front lobe of his brain, according to Mrs. Williams.

Trent receives a dose of the strong sedative Propofol, which makes him fall asleep. A group of four or five people in the radiation department flip the boy onto his stomach, face down into a mask, she explained. Another mask is placed on the back of his head and snaps to the one in front, which makes sure the head remains still. Lines drawn on his back with permanent marker help workers put him in exactly the same position each time.
Trent has his last radiation treatment Dec. 29, but weeks of treatment lie ahead.

"Because we've not finished radiation we're doing it in steps," Williams said.

The family has not yet heard specific details on the next phase of Trent's treatment -- chemotherapy. This could take place at U.Va. once or twice a week, which would allow her to take Trent for a treatment and come back to Strasburg the same day, she said. Trent has a "tic line" in his arm for injections of medications. Doctors plan to replace this with a line inserted near his neck which goes directly into the main artery of the heart, she explained.

But the boy takes each day in stride.

"He has been an absolute trooper," Williams said. "I mean, everyone at the radiation department [at U.Va.] is overwhelmed at how well-behaved he is and how well he handles it.

"He literally goes in the room, sits up on the table. He jokes with everybody," she said.
For more information about making a donation to the Williams family, contact Chrissy Jenkins at Sandy Hook Elementary School at 465-8281.


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