We Think William Deserves a Medal Before the Race Begins
The Next Marathon - William Tjeerdsma
It’s still dark outside at 6 am in Sioux City, Iowa, when Melissa Tjeerdsma rouses her 10-year-old son, William, for their daily walk. Says his mother, Melissa, “It’s not William’s idea of fun to go outside and walk, but he’s made completing this marathon—and raising money for the Ronald McDonald House—his next goal.”
The marathon to which Melissa refers is the Nike Half-Marathon on October 23, 2005. Held in San Francisco, the marathon will be the first time William has returned to the Bay Area since his eight-week stay at the Ronald McDonald House in January and February of 2005, while undergoing radiation therapy for a brain tumor at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH). Melissa credits not only Dr. Michael Edwards and the rest of the LPCH medical staff, but also the staff and residents of Ronald McDonald House, for giving William the inspiration to walk the race.
“The fact that William is training for the Nike Half-Marathon is amazing,” says Melissa. “But, to be honest, he’s been running a marathon since he was ten months old.”
That was when Melissa took William in for a well-baby check-up in their then-hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. “When I was changing his diaper one day, I noticed that he had this little eye twitch. We thought it was just a little nystagmus—an involuntary eye movement", remembers Melissa. At William’s next check-up, the pediatrician suggested an MRI to rule out any serious issues and, unfortunately, it showed that William’s nystagmus was caused by a mass in his brain.
Ten days after the MRI confirmed their worst fears, William had an open brain biopsy. Two months later, a shunt was inserted to relieve pressure the mass was creating. Remembers Melissa, “After they looked at the biopsy results, they gave him a one in five chance of survival. They told us that the only basic kind of treatment that they would recommend was chemotherapy.”
An aggressive course of chemotherapy left William—now 15 months old—weak and very sick. Doctors sent William home with instructions for the Tjeerdsmas to bring him back in three months for another check-up. “William was 19 months old when they did another scan and gave us the unhappy result that the mass had continued to grow. We met with a neurosurgeon who said he didn’t recommend trying to remove the tumor. And we met with a radiation oncologist who said that, because of William’s age, she didn’t recommend radiation. They weren’t optimistic that the chemotherapy would get him to age three. We were at a dead-end,” says Melissa.
Within six months, William’s pain had reached epic proportions. Remembers Melissa, “He was vomiting all the time and he was just screaming in pain and grabbing at his head.” Not willing to take ‘no’ for an answer, the Tjeerdmas persevered. While taking care of William at home, Melissa’s husband, Ken, remembered a chance encounter back in Mississippi. “The day after we found out about William’s tumor, a doctor who had trained in California told us about Dr. Michael Edwards. As a last-ditch effort, we had a local scan done, and my husband insisted that the scan be sent to him.”
Melissa and William will walk the Nike Half-Marathon with William’s brothers, John and Kenneth Tjeerdsma. Be sure to read Melissa’s blog of their activities, including entries from their October 23, 2005 walk through San Francisco.
And he was right. William spent the next seven years pain-free and without growth of the residual tumor, growing up into a happy, talkative boy. And then, in September 2004, William’s scan showed a little growth. This time, there was no question about who they would see. Says Melissa, “We immediately sent the scan to Dr. Edwards.” Dr. Edwards operated on William again on November 10, 2004.
It was during this surgery and the subsequent radiation therapy—directed by Dr. Iris Gibbs—that Melissa and William stayed at the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, right down the street from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “The radiation appointments were very early in the morning, so we spent a lot of our days at the house. William decided that he wanted to put in 24 hours of volunteer time while we were there. It gave him a purpose, which was wonderful. And the volunteer award he received was icing on the cake,” says Melissa.
After returning to Sioux City, William missed his friends on the staff at the Ronald McDonald House. “When the notice of the marathon arrived in the mail, William jumped at the chance to join Team Ronald McDonald and raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford. And, it was a perfect opportunity to comply with Dr. Edwards’ orders to get more exercise!” says Melissa, excitedly. “When we first started training, William could barely walk a mile and a half without stopping to rest. Now, after many early morning walks, he is up to ten miles and counting.”
Curbing her enthusiasm for a moment, Melissa becomes reflective. “William’s prognosis is dramatically different now than it was when we first started out. He’s gone from a 20-percent chance of survival to walking this half-marathon with me,” says Melissa. “We’re very thankful.”