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Losing a child is something no parent should have to bear. For Lori Boomer and her husband, Ted, and their close-knit friends and family, this is all too sad a reality.
Their son Taite was the youngest of the couple’s three energetic kids. As Lori describes, “he was a typical Canadian boy.” Taite was an avid lacrosse and hockey player, just like his two brothers, and some might even say a “gym rat.” He was popular but made it a priority to stay close with friends he’d had since he was a young child. Taite was in a loving relationship with his long-term girlfriend, Katelyn. He was also a business student at the University of Alberta and had dreams of becoming an accountant.
In a short eight months, everything changed.
On January 2, 2012, Taite was working out at his local gym when he collapsed. Taken to the hospital to ensure he was alright, Taite was told by doctors he was simply dehydrated. With the recommendation to take in more fluids, he was sent home. Four days later, Taite collapsed again. This time, a check of his neurological and cardiovascular systems was completed but still nothing seemed abnormal according to the results. Then in early February, Taite had a generalized (grand mal) seizure in his sleep.
Back at the hospital for the third time in just over a month, Taite was referred to a neurologist, who diagnosed epilepsy and put Taite on anti-seizure medication. A CT scan, MRI and EEG were also ordered. The results of the CT scan and EEG came back normal, and the waiting began for Taite’s MRI appointment, scheduled for June 7.
After Taite’s MRI in June, the family received the startling results: Taite had a brain tumour. A contrast MRI was booked immediately, to see if the tumour would react to the procedure’s dye – often a way to show whether or not a mass is non-malignant or cancerous. Because the tumour in Taite’s brain did not react to the dye, it was determined that it was low-grade. Taite was sent home with instructions to return to the hospital in three months for another MRI to monitor the tumour.
Almost immediately, Taite’s health began to deteriorate. He lost strength in his right hand and leg, and his speech began to slur. “He could barely get out a few words,” Katelyn recalls. Another contrast MRI was performed, and the results prompted a biopsy to be scheduled. On July 25, Taite entered the hospital for the surgery. Five days later he was released, but couldn’t walk without the support of a cane or assistance from his loved ones. The family settled in for more waiting, but another seizure on August 9 brought Taite back to the hospital. The next day the biopsy results were in. The tumour was in fact cancerous, and was a Grade III anaplastic astrocytoma. Doctors were unsure of a prognosis. “Nothing made sense at that point,” explains Lori. “The doctors were just as surprised as we were, it seemed. They said this just wasn’t a tumour young men typically get.”
Taite persevered despite the shock of the biopsy results and his worsening symptoms. He was determined to have treatment, and radiation and chemotherapy were scheduled to begin September 6.
On September 1, five days before the start of his treatment, Taite went to bed earlier than usual. He’d spent part of the day with Katelyn, “perking up and sitting straighter,” when she came in, adds Lori. While Taite was exhausted, mentally and physically, his early bedtime that day caught his parents’ attention. When Taite wouldn’t wake up for his evening medications, an ambulance was called.
At the hospital, a CT scan discovered a brain bleed, and the doctors shared the devastating news with the Boomer family. “At that point, there was nothing they could do for our son anymore,” Lori says. Despite the grief and sadness that came with this realization, Lori and Ted made the remarkable decision to donate Taite’s organs. “You have to salvage some good – you can’t focus on the bad,” Lori says. “This was our way of trying to make something go in the right direction, to know that something good could come of this experience.”
Taite was surrounded by love and support from those he cherished, and his journey with a brain tumour reflected this in every way.
Looking back over the past year, Lori says Taite’s illness changed a lot of things but the love was always there. “My oldest son was coaching but stopped so he could be around for his brother’s treatments. My husband took time off work and our second son quit hockey to be home. We all cut back to bare bones.” Taite’s friends made it a priority to come over whenever possible, and even took him to one of their homes, “just so there was some sense of normalcy for Taite,” Lori recalls, “despite how hard it was to manoeuver Taite in his wheelchair.”
Katelyn, who was Taite’s girlfriend for more than three years, was also there for him every step of the way, even taking a term off of university to care for Taite. “I just wanted to be there for every treatment, every appointment if I could. Taite was the strongest and smartest person I have ever known and I don't think anyone could have gone through what he did with as much emotional, mental and physical strength.”
On September 15, 2012, more than 500 loved ones celebrated Taite’s life at a memorial at a local high school. Afterward, people approached the family asking what they could do to commemorate Taite and help others diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Now, the Boomers and Katelyn have taken on the challenge of fundraising in Taite’s memory and to ensure there are more studies into the disease that took his life. “One of the things we’re hoping to do is fund a research studentship,” Lori explains. “With so little information about the brain and brain tumours, compared to something like breast cancer, it feels like we’re almost at square one.” What started with a successful fundraiser at a local hair salon has blossomed into the Taite Boomer Memorial Brain Tumor Foundation. All of these efforts connect back to Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, where a committee of experts review the opportunities to invest donations made in tribute to Taite and select research projects that look into understanding brain tumours and move closer to finding new treatments for the disease.
And while Lori sometimes struggles with her son’s death, she thinks back to Taite’s journey, finding comfort in the outpouring of support that came with it and that remains ever since. “It’s amazing to see how everyone has rallied around our family and Katelyn. You almost don’t realize until afterwards, how many people were affected by Taite’s life. We’re all so grateful for the time we had with him.”
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