Chloe

Chloë


It’s been nearly 16 years since Roselle Tunison first found herself in an ambulance with her 6-month-old daughter, Chloë. Chloë had experienced a brain hemorrhage, and she’d shortly be diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was the beginning of a grueling journey, with myriad ups and downs, that continues to this day. But fortunately, it was also the beginning of Roselle and her family’s relationship with Making Headway.
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When her kids were young, Roselle would need to bring not only Chloë but her twin brother, Johnny, on the lengthy trips from their Long Island home to the hospital in Manhattan. (First, Beth Israel and, later, NYU Langone Medical Center.)

“The playroom is what made it doable,” she says. “It was so welcoming and warm. I could connect with other mothers going through the same thing there. For the kids, waiting for the doctor was arts and crafts time.”

Making Headway supports families for as long as necessary, whether that means an afternoon or a lifetime. Roselle has many stories to tell about her warm interactions with Drs. Allen and Kothbauer (members of Making Headway’s medical advisory board) and the Making Headway team. There was the time she and Johnny were waiting for Chloë to awaken after yet another surgery. It had been a long, stressful day and they were both tired and hungry, but she didn’t want to leave the waiting room. Suddenly, Maya appeared, bearing cupcakes!

There were the many times “the yoga fairy,” Annie Hickman, was on hand to help the children spend their waiting time with fanciful activities. There was support from psychiatrist Dr. Hess and psychologists Dr. Greenleaf and Dr. Donnelly. And there was assistance from education specialists Patty Weiner and Sabina Bragg. Roselle remembers warmly the period when Bragg (a member of Making Headway’s Ongoing Care Team at the time) helped the teachers and administrators at Chloë’s middle school understand the child’s special challenges: “Most schools don’t know anything about kids with brain tumors. They don’t realize that certain behavior problems are typical, and they blame the parents or something else. Sabina joined in our phone calls and made sure I was being heard,” Roselle explains.

Chloë still has her struggles at school and at home. The road hasn’t been easy for the Tunisons. But Roselle credits Making Headway for making everything a whole lot better than it might have been.

“What really stands out about Making Headway is the warm, compassionate care. There are days when you feel like you’re just going to give up because nobody understands what you’re going through. Making Headway understands.”

Carolyn

Carolyn


Carolyn is a hard-working young woman who is currently a sophomore in high school. She is also a brain tumor survivor and lost her father when she was little. Many brain tumor survivors face difficult challenges as a result of surgeries, treatments, and missed time at school. Carolyn was experiencing difficulties after she finally returned to school, including problems with her schoolwork and anxiety about her social life. To help Carolyn, she was referred to Making Headway Education Specialist Sabina Bragg.
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Ms. Bragg worked with the family and realized that at the heart of Carolyn’s struggles there was a common theme: school instruction simply did not meet her unique needs. Ms. Bragg went to the school, conducted staff interviews, and observed Carolyn in several learning environments. Using this information, as well as a previous neuro-psychological evaluation, Ms. Bragg put together a comprehensive presentation for Carolyn’s instructional team at school. She worked with them to develop creative instructional approaches, such as the use of an iPhone to take audio notes instead of written notes, as note-taking was difficult for Carolyn. Ms. Bragg demonstrated how small group instructional tables would provide the special education support that would not only support Carolyn, but also the entire class. Ms. Bragg helped change the mindset in the school, enabling staff to understand that Carolyn’s problems were due to behavioral issues caused by her treatment, and were typical of a child with her complex medical background.

Carolyn continues to show how strong she is despite all that she has been through. Her mother is extremely happy with the progress that she has made and is grateful for Ms. Bragg’s assistance, passion, and expertise.

A Journey of Hope (Johanna’s Story)

A Journey of Hope (Johanna’s Story)


I remember well the first time we met Maya in the playroom at the Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery at Beth Israel North. Our local pediatric neurosurgeon out on Long Island had referred my youngest daughter, Johanna, for consultation with Dr. Jeffrey Allen and the late Dr. Fred Epstein. We were newly seasoned parents; Johanna having had six brain surgeries before she turned a year old, the first one to resect a brainstem mass when she was a 12-week old infant. She needed a shunt placed before she was four months old.
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That first year, November 1996-97, was a blur as we balanced raising three older children (3, 6 and 9) and caring for our critically ill baby. But New Year 1998 rang in with a bang as we rushed Johanna to the ER with signs of pressure building, only to find out that she had multiple bleeds in her brain. After undergoing an MRI, she was diagnosed with multiple cavernous angiomas—benign lesions that multiply, hemorrhage, and grow. The only cure was surgical resection of troublesome lesions—an approach that would lead to multiple craniotomies, complications, strokes, and seizures for our little girl.

Meeting Maya Manley was a godsend for my husband and me and all our four kids. (We kind of traveled as a pack.) She introduced us to other families and took all our kids under her capable care as we met with the doctors to discuss this new diagnosis and surgical plans. Our kids—my son and his three younger sisters—all loved Maya. She made them feel welcomed and important and she was interested in their lives outside the whirl of hospital stays and surgeries. Maya helped us all feel better about this crazy new life we now lived and creatively helped us to forget about the trials by offering a cup of tea, an attentive ear, and chocolate!

Years later and after a diagnosis of a rare genetic disease—CCM3—we divided our time and Johanna’s care between NYU and a local hospital on Long Island. The kids loved our trips to NYC the best. The patients and families, nurses and some doctors came and went, but one of the constant joys in this walk has been Maya’s smiling face in the playroom and the wonderful support we’ve received from Making Headway Foundation.

Founders and friends, Maya and Edward Manley, are among the most gracious and caring people I have ever met. Through the years, our family has participated in field trips like the cruise, theater performances, parties and fundraisers, which all helped to connect us to others who were on a similar journey. The families, the Manleys, the staff, and volunteers of Making Headway all made us feel normal and welcomed, reminding us that we were not alone.

Over twenty years and a hundred surgeries later, Making Headway is still making a difference in our lives. As the gap widens between Johanna’s chronological and developmental age, there are a few things that remain the same. Maya’s fun projects and caring presence (and chocolate!) are among our sweetest consolations. And then there is always—Maya’s smile.

Arnold

Arnold


Arnold was only five years old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He received six weeks of radiation and eleven weeks of chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was cut short due to a variety of serious side effects include hearing loss and the onset of learning disabilities. When he returned to school, his teachers reported “things he knew before the surgery, he forgot after the surgery”. He also needed to re-learn basic motor skills. Over the years, Making Headway has worked with the family and the school to ensure that Arnold received the best possible education and the services that he needed to achieve his goal of graduating high school.
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Arnold is currently enrolled in a co-teaching integrated classroom in 8th grade. This class has both a general education and special education professional assigned to work with both classified and non-classified students. Arnold will have the same program next year when he transitions to high school. In addition to the integrated class, Arnold receives a series of special services, including: speech, language, and physical therapy; a 1:1 paraprofessional; and special testing accommodations (extended time, questions read to him, etc.).

Over the past year, Arnold has made tremendous progress. With the specialized resources he now receives, his results on both the math and reading state tests improved by over 50%. He is now achieving at grade level and on a Regents Diploma High School track. Every day is still a struggle, but Making Headway and Arnold are working hard to overcome any challenges and achieve his goals.

Standing Up (Michael’s Story)

Michael’s Story


My parents told me I swung my four-year-old feet to the side of the bed. I watched my legs dangle, while they held my IV tubes to follow me. Although I had been recuperating from emergency surgery (due to a complication during my radiation therapy), it was time to see if I could walk by myself. My parents said I had become weaker, trembling as they supported me, but I stood up.
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hope and help. Someone had once given me a little card with the poem “Footprints in the Sand.” I read it, probably like anyone reads it for the first time, and was surprised by the ending— because you do not see it coming when you read it for the first time. As a glioblastoma brain tumor survivor, I have many challenges. We all need to be carried sometimes, but on occasion, we have the ability to stand up and carry others.

Making Headway exists because it has understood this all along. When I trace my cancer journey, I see how Making Headway has been there to comfort, to educate, to encourage, and to celebrate everyone walking this particular journey. To make progress, you need to walk forward, but to make headway, you need others.

I have remained in remission since my treatment in 2005. However, I have suffered cognitive and physical deficits, including mild hemiparesis, from the trauma of this diagnosis. By surviving, my responsibility is to reveal my purpose, with gratitude. Now eighteen, I am so appreciative and excited to be attending college. I have much to accomplish, so I am using my inner strength and gratitude to ensure that I can land on my feet—because when I do stand up, my diligence delivers, my tenacity triumphs, and I rise to overcome my challenges. Grateful for how Making Headway has carried me through, I smile knowing that sometimes I can feel sand under my feet.

Susan

Susan


At age six, Susan was one of the brightest children in her class. Then she fell very ill. Tests revealed the presence of a large cell Anaplastic PNET—a malignant brain tumor. Suddenly, instead of experiencing the excitement of first grade, Susan was undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, then facing a long round of chemotherapy and radiation. While the treatment worked wonders on her cancer, the illness and its aftermath left their marks. Her hearing was compromised, the right side of her body was weakened (hemiparesis), and she was discovered to have developed a number of special learning needs.
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Susan’s neuropsychologist referred the child and her family to Making Headway, where they were introduced to Education Specialist Patricia Weiner, a member of our Ongoing Care Team. This was the start of a relationship that would last for many years. Ms. Weiner helped the anxious parents understand Susan’s changing needs, the services available to address these needs, and how best to obtain those services. She joined the family in working with teachers and special educators, as well as physical, occupational, language, hearing, and vision therapists.

From elementary through high school, Ms. Weiner continued to assist Susan’s family at dozens of meetings at school and with the Department of Education. She repeatedly observed in Susan’s classrooms to ensure that her needs were being met. Susan’s family remained very involved as well. Over the course of Susan’s schooling, over 200 educators played a role in helping her achieve success. Susan was still a bright and determined child, and with the help and support of all these adults she was able to compensate for many of her impairments.

Not long ago, Susan graduated high school with honors, and today she is attending community college. She’s doing quite well, but Making Headway Foundation will always be there for her if she needs us.

A lifeboat of the island (Owen’s Story)

A LIFEBOAT OFF THE ISLAND (Owen’s Story)


There are images you don’t forget when your child is diagnosed with a brain tumor. The look on your wife’s face as a doctor explains to her that, no, your son is not OK and won’t be going home from the hospital. The supernatural glow the tumor has when you look at that first image of his brain. The way a doctor idly twists a phone cord during a family meeting, sighs in a way that is so far from hopeful it doesn’t even feel in the same state as despair, and says, “So Second opinions…”
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Making Headway was a lifeboat off our lonely island of hopelessness. Our lives were changed irreversibly when Owen was diagnosed. But so, too, were they when NYU Neurosurgeon Dr. Jefrey Wisoff said he thought he could remove the tumor. And when the incredibly kind staff at Hassenfeld and Making Headway walked us through the resources at our disposal post-surgery. And when “Snowen” met Looney Lenny for the first time after surgery. And when we went to our first Family Fun Day on Father’s Day, 2009. And when we snapped a picture of Owen with Dr. Wisoff as he celebrated 10 years cancer-free.

We’re honored to be a part of the Making Headway community—a family of fighters, survivors, and angels. I’m not sure we would have made it off the island if not for them. “Thank you” seems inadequate to the task of expressing our gratitude.

Mary’s Story

Mary’s Story


Mary was an 8-year-old girl, newly diagnosed with a pineoblastoma and associated hydrocephalus who had just undergone a surgical resection to remove the tumor from the pineal gland of her brain. Most children who undergo this type of surgery encounter a variety of side effects, including ones that affect both motor and mental functions. Neuropsychologist Dr. Kate McGee (whose position is funded by Making Headway) was asked to consult with the family due to concerns regarding her language, processing, and communication following her surgery.
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Through an assessment battery which was individually-tailored to account for Mary’s hearing loss, Dr. McGee was able to discern that she was, in fact, cognitively intact and did not have cognitive or expressive language deficits, despite initial concerns to the contrary. In fact, Mary was very bright, with important areas of neurocognitive strength that were being masked by her newly acquired hearing deficits. Furthermore, in attempting to compensate for her hearing loss, Mary was relying entirely on alternative strategies for communication. Dr. McGee’s consultation helped to inform Mary’s physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies, highlighting that in order to communicate effectively, Mary required direct eye contact to enhance her ability for lip reading. Thereafter, Mary was far better able to communicate interpersonally and express her needs with both her treatment team and her parents.

Fortunately, as her medical situation stabilized, discussion was able to shift to her return to school and associated educational needs in the context of her medical history and hearing impairment. Educational Coordinator at Hassenfeld, Julia Gomez, met with Mary’s family and communicated with her school to ensure appropriate support and accommodations were put in place in anticipation of her return to the classroom. With the support of Making Headway and the NYU Hassenfeld Center, Mary’s future looks bright.

The support we need (Cairo’s Story)

The support we need (Cairo’s Story)


When my son Cairo was diagnosed with learning difficulties I was overwhelmed. Trying to navigate “the system” and receive help for my son left me confused and feeling helpless. I knew my son could receive services provided by the Department of Education, even though I chose to send him to a private school. But when services began I didn’t know if he was receiving all that he needed in order to have a successful educational experience. I had no one to speak to or ask questions of. I felt like I was imposing on my son’s school because they are not a school designed for special education.
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When I became connected with Making Headway’s Education Advocate Patty Weiner, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. Patty has been an invaluable resource. She has a tremendous amount of experience and connections and has helped me not only with the DOE (obtaining testing for my son and understanding the results) but also with my son’s school. Whereas in the past I would sit back and hope that the services my son were receiving were “good enough,” I now know that I have someone looking out for my son’s best interests and who will make sure that he is receiving all the services he is entitled to. I can’t thank Making Headway enough for providing this valuable resource to our family. —Kelley Archer

Alexis

Alexis


I don’t worry about the little, insignificant things anymore
By Alexis Zachem

I am THAT girl who had a brain tumor. Before you start pitying me, let me make one thing abundantly clear. I love being the girl who had a brain tumor. No, not for the attention I get for it, and definitely not for the surgery and recovery. I like who my tumor made me and what it made me realize about myself. Before I became a brain tumor girl I was average. Smart, but never the smartest. Skinny, but definitely not the skinniest. All I wanted was to distinguish myself from everyone around me. I thought I could do this by being the prettiest or smartest, but found myself disappointed that I fell short every time. At the end of freshman year, as I sat on the sidelines of a lacrosse game, I was hit in the nose by a ball traveling 75 miles per hour. I was rushed to the emergency room to have facial reconstruction.
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I thought to myself, what could get worse than this? I can’t have shattered nasal plates and a deviated septum because I need to be pretty. I can’t spend months inactive, because I need to work out to be skinny. One thing I’ve learned about life is it can always be worse. Right before my surgery, my doctor pulled my parents aside and gave them the news that had everyone entering the room in tears.

I HAD A BRAIN TUMOR! An innocent 15 year old who was too shy and insecure to hurt a fly! I vividly remember the feeling when they told me; that feeling of your heart dropping to the floor as your stomach tightens and throat closes. I thought it was the end. I would never live to go to college, drive a car, meet my husband or start a family. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The way I see it, people face tragedy in two ways. You can be the victim or you can be the survivor. I am a survivor. I fought my tumor and I beat it. I had a 10-hour surgery, spent 5 nights in the ICU, went on dozens of medications and have 6 titanium plates in my skull and a 9-inch scar, but I won!

I don’t like it when others know what I went through. I don’t like being looked at differently because I fought a deadly illness. But I do love who my surgery made me. Now I am passionate about everything I do. I appreciate every moment of every day because I understand how precious life is.

I have raised over $50,000 for Making Headway through planning and executing an annual spina-thon. I started a social media campaign called  “brain freeze for brain cancer” that gained international attention and had thousands of shares. I mentor kids currently battling brain tumors, and help their families through the experience. I donate toys and clothes to the hospital. I have a blog, braintumorgirl.com, that helps kids understand what to expect when having brain surgery. Nothing makes me happier than doing these things.

My surgery gave me a new perspective on life. I don’t worry about the little, insignificant things anymore. I know how lucky I am to simply be alive and I use that to make everything I do productive.

Alexis is now studying neuroscience at Duke University. Her goal is to become a pediatric neurosurgeon or neurologist, and change the patient-doctor interface for kids undergoing brain surgery.