Alex Davidson’s mother, Cindy Garrett, of Mundfordville, thinks the only thing rare about her son’s cancer is the fact that only 4 percent of government funding goes toward pediatric research a year.
Davidson – AD as his friends call him – was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma Aug. 4 of last year, after eventually experiencing symptoms similar to a stroke. DIPG is a brain cancer that makes nervous system function impossible, according to thecurestartsnow.org.
Prior to his diagnosis, the 17-year-old was a second-base and short-stop player on the Hart County High School baseball team. His favorite team is the University of Kentucky Wildcats and he always worried about others before he ever worried about himself, Garrett said.
AD went to the doctor prior to his diagnosis after having headaches and problems with his vision and was told he needed to have his eyes examined. Shortly after this, he returned from work one night and could barely walk.
“How he managed to make it home from his work, we really only know it was by the grace of God,” Garrett said. “He stumbled up the steps, and I thought maybe he had done some things that most teenagers shouldn’t have done.”
Garrett, who is a registered nurse with The Medical Center at Bowling Green, said most people experience dizziness, numbness on one side of the body and double vision.
“They did a CT scan, that didn’t show anything, and the only way to find this tumor for him was actually to do an MRI that showed us that he had a brainstem tumor and we were transferred from TJ Samson Community Hospital to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville,” Garrett said.
Because his immune system was so compromised, AD contracted a herpes simplex virus that moved to his brain, and since Oct. 30 he hasn’t been able to walk and talk. He was moved from the hospital on Dec. 5 to his home, where he has been since.
There is no cure for the cancer, no medications or chemotherapy drugs that will cross the blood barrier, and it’s inoperable because it is located inside of AD’s brainstem, Garrett said.
“So that’s what makes this the most difficult to treat,” she said.
Most people don’t survive three years after the diagnosis and there are no living survivors of DIPG, Garrett said.
The Garretts have begun a Facebook page for awareness, called Team Alex-DIPG Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma awareness, which – according to the page – is “a place for DIPG awareness for family, friends and the community. In addition, this is also a place to shower Alex with support, love and encouragement.”
She hopes families will know what to watch for, and hopes that doctors will learn to pay attention to the signs.
Looking back at the last year, Garrett said she can remember symptoms of AD feeling fatigued and getting sharp headaches.
“But these are normal things that kids are doing,” she said. “They go to school all day, ball practice all night, go out, hang out with their buddies, they feel a little exhausted. So all of the signs for the DIPG prior to his diagnosis are typical signs with teenagers.”
She said they spoke with doctors often about the headaches AD was getting, but doctors always wanted to wait them out, and no CT scans or MRI were done.
“The very last part is why I suspected those issues because you would have almost thought he was having a stroke,” she said. “There were stroke-like symptoms: numbness, tingling, slurred speech, difficultly walking, concentrating and talking.”
Garrett said she knew that wasn’t normal.
Garrett said with AD home she often feels like a hostage in her own home because she can’t leave him and she can’t take him with her when she leaves. She and her husband, Curtis, take turns working three days a week, and AD’s three older sisters are there to take care of him as well.
“There’s a big traumatic situation when you have to have to take care of children like that,” Garrett said. “He’s always been a blessing to me, and that’s my job as a mom to do whatever I have to do, however long we have to do it, until we don’t have that left, until he doesn’t have any time left.”
The community has been supportive of AD’s diagnosis, with fundraising efforts to help the family. These efforts culminated last Friday when the rivalry between Hart County High School and Caverna High School was broken at a basketball game in which the CHS boy’s basketball team wore T-shirts that read ‘Team AD’ on them during their warm-up.
Garrett said it was touching and that it’s fascinating how the rivalry dissolved in the time of need.
“We usually have to have police escorts to Caverna, and there’s always been a rivalry or a fight after the game, and there was no rivalry,” she said. “You felt nothing in the air but love from everybody. It was an amazing game. The best part of the whole thing was nobody cared who won or lost.”
Anthony Phillips, 17, of Cave City, is a member of the CHS boy’s basketball team that initiated the T-shirts.
“The reason why we did it is because we wanted to show people it’s not just about the game, or basketball, or a big rivalry,” Phillips said. “The main thing we’re focusing on now as a team is there’s a bigger picture than just sports and ball.”
He said people are getting sick every day and the team wanted to show “that there’s compassion for a fellow human being.”
Three years ago Phillips played Babe Ruth baseball with AD, and they have been good friends since.
He said when he first met AD, he was a very enthused, athletic kid.
“He’s 17 just like us, and that could be us, and it shows us that someone really close to us could get sick,” Phillips said. “We need to value life more and be more appreciative of what we have, and reach out to the community. We just wanted to do that for him and his family to show that we support him.”