On the first day of fourth grade, Will came home screaming in pain due to a headache. His mother immediately took him to T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with strep. When the antibiotics were not effective in treating the symptoms, the doctors thought it might be connected to the medicines Will was taking for his Asperger Syndrome, an earlier diagnosis. His pediatrician then recommended they get a CT Scan and EEG which was followed up by an MRI and the doctors then confirmed there was a tumor on his pituitary gland.
Will began going regularly to the cancer clinic at T.C. Thompson and around that same time Danielle Hooper, Will’s mother, attended an event at Coolidge Park where Hatch’s House of Hope had a booth set up. Danielle grabbed one of the cards and contacted Hatch’s to see what services they had for her son.
At the time, Danielle worked for the Chattanooga Area Brain Injury Association, a nonprofit organization. She said coming to Hatch’s gave her a place to be honest about the struggles associated with pediatric cancer. “It was great because I spent all day long helping everyone else with their brain injuries and had no place for myself,” said Danielle, “I sat in Trish’s office that [first] day and just cried and cried and cried and cried.”
In December, a few months after the diagnosis, Danielle and Will moved to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital for 6 weeks where Will was able to receive the radiation therapy he needed to treat his tumor. When they came back, Will began regularly going to Hatch’s to receive educational tutoring.
“Coming back from St. Jude’s you’re thrown into the real world and it was helpful to have Hatch’s to help that transition,” said Danielle.
She described coming back to Hatch’s like finding “our own little piece of St. Jude here, where everybody just takes care of you.”
Along with the help Will was receiving, Danielle, her husband and their younger daughter, Maddie, were also able to get help at Hatch’s. Maddie, only eight years old when Will was diagnosed, became overwhelmed by the way his cancer had consumed the family and she was able to find help through counselling with Dr. Ryan Thompson, a doctor at Hatch’s. Maddie met regularly with Dr. Thompson for several months and Danielle said having a person to talk to that was just for Maddie made her feel like she had a special place of her own at Hatch’s.
Maddie was also able to go to Camp Hidden Hollow, a week-long summer camp, twice through the generous donations Hatch’s receives. Both were experiences she loved and ones, according to Danielle, that would have been impossible without Hatch’s.
For Will, it’s not the cancer that is the hardest to deal with, but the side effects from the radiation. His pituitary gland has completely shut down, so he will need to take hormones and receive shots for the rest of his life. However, the tumor is stable and Will is doing well. Through the educational tutoring, Will now has confidence in school and no longer meets with his tutor because he decided it was time he try school on his own. This year he excelled in math on his CRCT, a subject Will had always struggled with.
Maddie also graduated from meeting with Dr. Thompson and Danielle explains that Maddie was thrilled when she received her diploma. “They have really helped us over the hump,” said Danielle, “and we are going to try and see how we do on our own now.”