03/20/17 — The long road ahead

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The long road ahead

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 20, 2017 7:01 AM

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Reid Martin rests after surgery for an aggressive brain tumor in Duke Children's Hospital, comforted by a therapy dog. The 5-year-old has had four brain surgeries since being diagnosed in early February.

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Reid Martin, 5, plays with toys during a hospital stay at Duke Children's Hospital, where he has been treated for an aggressive brain tumor diagnosed in early February. In the time since, he has had four brain surgeries and is slated to have chemotherapy and radiation.

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Tiffany Martin, center, is the mother of two, Josiah, 11, right, and Reid, 5, who spent his fifth birthday in the hospital Feb. 10 shortly after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. He has had four brain surgeries in the weeks since and is slated to have chemotherapy and radiation.

Tiffany Martin needs something from her community -- prayers.

But not for herself.

The single mother of two has had a laser-like focus since learning her younger son has brain cancer a few weeks ago.

At the end of January, Reid wasn't feeling well. He had no appetite and some nausea and vomiting, but at the time all signs pointed to whatever bug was going around.

When he didn't bounce back after a couple days and there was concern about dehydration, Goldsboro Pediatrics admitted him to the hospital to push fluids.

"One symptom is that he complained of his head. The pediatrician came in and I said, 'You know, he's complaining about his head. Something just seems a little off,'" Ms. Martin said.

A CT scan was done.

When the doctor later returned, Ms. Martin was not prepared for what she heard.

"She pulled me to the side and basically gave me the results -- 'It's not good. It's a brain tumor,'" she said. "I said, 'What?' Not what I expected at all.

"From there, in a matter of about 45 minutes, we were in a helicopter to Duke because obviously they needed to get him to where they could treat him."

The diagnosis came Feb. 1 -- non germinoma germ cell tumor or "yolk sac tumor."

The weeks since have been a blur. Her son has been in and out of Duke Children's Hospital, spending his fifth birthday there on Feb. 10.

The plan to treat the aggressive tumor was to have 19 weeks of chemotherapy, three times a week, followed by six weeks of radiation.

One surgery has now become four, the most recent one last week to alleviate fluid buildup on the brain.

Her Sunday evening update on Facebook said an MRI revealed the discovery of two new tumors in different locations, with doctors deciding to accelerate the chemo treatment to deal with the progression.

The weeks since the diagnosis have been exhausting for the young family.

"Just from finding out, having the doctor tell us or give me that news, I think I have just been on like a speed dial," she said. "I've just been going, going, going. All I can think about is his health and trying to be a good mom.

"Not only that, but just not wanting to neglect my older son (Josiah, 11), who is at that age where he's very interested in his friends and school. So he's not really aware of what the situation is."

Ms. Martin has spent a lot of time researching and reading about her son's condition, as well as comforting him and juggling the trips back and forth to the hospital.

"I have to hold my emotions in until he's asleep because he's needing me throughout the day," she said.

Outside of being really tired, Reid has handled everything with courage and strength, she says.

"He still wants to be the kid that I know that he is," she said. "He still wants to play and play with his toys and watch his shows but he just gets very overwhelmed.

"He wants to go to church still and play with his friends but then after awhile it gets to be too much. And he knows because he's actually listened to his own body. He'll say, 'Mom, I'm tired. I'm done.'"

The whirlwind weeks since the diagnosis have put everything on hold.

Despite the numbing realities surrounding her, she tempers the situation with gratitude.

Having served six years of active duty in the Army, then two in the reserves, she moved back to Goldsboro in March 2016, to be closer to family, which includes her mother and three older sisters.

She began working as a social worker with the Department of Social Services in July.

Kind co-workers have donated some of their shared sick leave to allow Ms. Martin to be with her son. That may not be enough, though, since to qualify for 12 weeks of family medical leave, she would have to have been employed for at least a year.

"We're looking at almost six months of treatment here so it's just one of those situations where you know what's going to occur," she said. "It's just a matter of time.

"I love my job. I love my co-workers. I love what I do. It's a stressful  job taking care of other children in foster care but there's just not very much room or opportunity or possibility to really devote because a lot of times you find yourself kind of neglecting home."

Compounding the situation is the fact that the boys' dad is in the Army, stationed in California.

She relies on her faith, thankful for the "countless prayers" from all over the country.

"People have shared on Facebook, 'Reid's Road to Recovery' and a GoFundMe (page) has been shared over 800 times and his page, people are just sharing his pictures, the stories," she said. "People that don't know us have just offered prayers and love and support.

"And church has been a really great support. We actually only joined the Lord's Table toward the end of last year so we've only been a member for a couple months but you would think that we have been members for years -- just the love that they have shown us and Reid; everybody loves Reid."

Not so long ago, returning to her hometown had not even been on her radar, much like the unanticipated cancer diagnosis.

 "I always said I would come back here to visit. I would never come back here to live. Never say never, because here I am and here we are," she said. "I never thought I would have the opportunity or that we would be connecting to the community in this way.

"I think everything does happen for a reason. It's just really funny how things all work out because Duke is one of the top medical facilities in the country. I would not have had him be anywhere else during something like this. But did I know all this was going to occur? No. I had no idea. It's humbling."