Carie LaFond’s prayers were answered the day Jackson, her son, was given the green light to reclaim his childhood after an illness that led to surgery and over a week in the hospital.
“Don’t take my little guy. If you need someone, I am right here,” she said.
Little did she know that the prayers recited daily by her son’s bedside would be heard so clearly. In February 2006, LaFond kept getting the feeling that she was on a tilt-a-whirl. But LaFond’s tilt-a whirl was unlike the classic carnival ride. She spoke to doctors and was assured everything was okay. Still, the dizziness continued.
One day, after collapsing to the ground while out for a jog, the former college athlete sought medical attention to find out what was going on. “I was just running along and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back,” she said. “That’s when I called the doctor and said, ‘Please do an MRI - something is not right.”
Despite doctors repeatedly saying that she was “remarkably asymptomatic,” she was right.
"It was the day of Jackson’s follow-up appointment. He got the green light, no restrictions. He was good to go.” While driving home, LaFond received a call from her family doctor. He said she needed to come in to discuss the MRI. And so her journey began. LaFond was told that a tumor, more specifically chordoma, had been growing smack dab in the middle of her brain.
With that, the LaFond family was introduced to Teddy.
LaFond and her husband, Paul, decided to name the tumor to simplify conversation and keep the kids, who at the time were one-and-a-half and four years old, in the loop and less scared about what was happening. “Talking about the tumor all the time just wasn’t working,” she said.
A long, complicated surgery, a stint of rehabilitation, wearing an eye patch and using a walker later, LaFond thought it was over.
“If Teddy hasn’t grown, you’re going to leave me alone,” she told her doctor.
Sadly, that was not the case. When Teddy began growing again, the doctor suggested a second surgery (transpenoidal resection) followed by proton beam therapy. With everything she had been through, she thought – ‘why not?’
“Let’s be done with Teddy forever,” she said.
Post-surgery, the LaFond family packed up the car and drove the 380 miles from Freeland, Mich. to Bloomington, Ind. to the IU Health Proton Therapy Center. In her initial consultation with Dr. Mark McDonald, LaFond made sure to ask about more than the treatment. Could they do the treatment over the summer when her husband, a teacher, and children were out of school?
“There was no way I could be away from my kids again. Teddy had kept me away from them long enough,” she said. The answer was yes. LaFond was prescribed 46 treatments, once daily, 5 days a week over the summer 2011. Shortly after their Spring Break visit to Bloomington, with bikes and jet skis in tow, the whole LaFond family moved into a condo at Eagle Pointe on Lake Monroe.
“Having two college athletes as parents - our kids don’t spend much time sitting,” she said. “For Lauren and Jackson - then six and nine years old - to have access to basketball courts, tennis, golfing, a swimming pool and the lake was phenomenal.” With minimal side-effects and all of the possibilities Bloomington and surrounding areas had to offer, the LaFond family was able to enjoy the ‘radiation vacation’
“I made a bucket list of places to go and see. We hit them all -we were all over the place! We took our weekends and times when mom didn’t have treatment and just lived,” she said. “We turned it into a radiation vacation and perhaps the best summer our family has ever had.”
Today, LaFond is back to work, feeling great and considers herself a walking PR machine for proton beam radiation. “Teddy is a part of my history, but he’s not going to define where we go from here.”