Jeffrey Pierson, 10, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February after suffering for three years from migraine headaches, according to his mother, Becky Pierson. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer
At first glance, Jeffrey Pierson looks strong and healthy, but closer inspection reveals the heart-breaking signs of a young boy battling cancer.
Dressed casually in T-shirt, sneakers and fashionably oversized jeans, Jeffrey gives his full attention to the images on the television screen. A slight turn of his head reveals a large, angry-looking pink scar that runs the length of his small neck. Smaller purple scars dot his head and chest.
According to his mother, Becky Pierson, the 10-year-old was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February after suffering for three years from migraine headaches. “The doctors kept telling me nothing was wrong,” she said. “I was shocked to find out it was cancer.”
The cancer diagnosis led to 20 days in a Lubbock hospital and four excruciating surgeries to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor growing on the base of the third-grader’s brain. “The doctors only gave him a 10 percent chance of survival,” Pierson said. “But he’s a strong little boy.”
The physicians were able to surgically remove only 90 percent of the cancer because of its dangerous proximity to Jeffrey’s brain stem, she added.
Now undergoing chemotherapy to shrink the remaining tumor, Jeffrey described the treatments as “alright.”
“I bleed a little bit when they take the needle out,” he said, “but it doesn’t really hurt.”
“Alright” is not how Pierson would describe the effects of the chemotherapy. Her once playful, athletic boy is physically ill for days, she said, following each weekly treatment. He struggles to maintain his balance and tires easily, requiring pain relievers to alleviate muscle and joint aches brought on by the toxic medications administered through a port in his chest.
Troy Newcomb, the boy’s maternal grandfather, said seeing his grandson suffer was “stressful.” His grandson experienced a slight stroke that left him with crossed eyes and unable to walk. “It was very hard to watch,” he said.
To strengthen his tired muscles, Jeffrey’s family used “fun activities.” His aunt, Anna Hunt, said she engaged the preteen with dancing and karate kicks. “He really hated me when he first got home, but it got him moving.”
Pre-cancer, the quiet child said he enjoyed “side-skidding” on his bike and executing “kick flips” on his skateboard. Now he spends days quietly playing video games, eating pizza and resting. He said he doesn’t mind missing school and enjoys his family’s doting.
“Everyone has been really nice to me,” Jeffrey said.
The cancer patient and his family of caretakers plan to walk in this weekend’s American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life to raise funds for research, education and patient support. Jeffrey’s aunt, cousins and twin sister, Vicky, plan to do the majority of the walking, according to the family. “He has his good days and bad days,” Pierson said, “but he wants to camp out.”
The Pierson family said the doctors are unsure of Jeffrey’s long-term prognosis but hope his strong-willed personality will win out over the devastating disease.
“I’m going to keep fighting,” Jeffrey said.