Candace's Story: "‘Normal’ is just a setting on the dryer!"

Candace's Story: "‘Normal’ is just a setting on the dryer!"

As a parent, it’s natural to be worried about the “what ifs” that could harm your child – but what happens when those concerns become your reality?

For Candace Breynaert, caring for her son Jax has become her full-time job. And that’s on top of volunteering, training for a marathon, and being a mom to her eldest boy, TJ, and partner to husband Geoff.

Candace, who previously worked with special needs children, noticed straight away when Jax began vomiting and losing major childhood development milestones, like being able to lift up his own head. Taking her young son, who was then two years old, to his pediatrician, Jax’s health changes were chalked up to celiac disease. When changing Jax’s diet did nothing to alleviate his symptoms, the next option was a trip to the ER. “I had to fight for someone to believe me, but no one would,” explains Candace, “Because of my health care background, I understood the implications of putting Jax into an MRI at his age, but I knew it needed to be done.”

Several more weeks would pass with no improvement and no further investigation into Jax’s health. It was July 31, 2010 when things took a turn for the worse.

“It was around our wedding day,” recalls Candace, looking back on what should have been a special time for the entire family. “Jax had been sick but my parents wanted to take him for the night, to give Geoff and me some time alone.” Candace’s mom took Jax to the local children’s hospital where, after being admitted, he was rushed into an MRI scan due to having a seizure. That’s when the root of all Jax’s health scares was identified: the toddler had a massive tumour near his brainstem.

Candace and her new husband spent their honeymoon in the children’s critical care unit, waiting on the 9-hour surgery that removed the mass from Jax’s brain. Only a short eight months later, young Jax would undergo more operations and radiation to remove a second brain tumour that had grown.

It’s been five years since that first terrifying night in hospital. Jax is now seven and far surpassed the two-week prognosis doctors had given the young boy when he was first diagnosed. But Jax, and his entire family, face long-term challenges when it comes to living as a pediatric brain cancer survivor.

Jax is non-verbal and cannot breathe on his own. The extreme neurological damage caused by treating the brain cancer means he can’t walk or feed himself. For Candace, caring for her son meant leaving her career and building a life around Jax’s needs. The life changes were tremendous, but the family stays positive and focuses on the progress Jax has made and how he’s beaten the odds of brain cancer. “Life is what you make it, we won’t sit here all ‘woe is me’,” says Candace. “This is our normal now. And besides, ‘normal’ is just a setting on the dryer!”

Part of what’s helped with the transition are the connections the Breynaert family has made – and not just locally, but across Canada and as far-wide as North America. TJ, Jax’s older brother, spends a lot of time fundraising for children’s cancer charities and for four years has done a blanket collection for kids’ wards in hospitals. Candace has found support through online groups for moms in similar circumstances and advocates for more research funding into children’s brain cancer. Even Jax gets in on the fun – through a charitable program called I Run 4 Michael, Jax is paired with an able-bodied online friend who does long-distance runs in his honour. Even TJ, Jax’s brother, is involved and matched through their siblings program! “I live by those groups,” adds Candace. “We’re all a part of this, and making these connections has been amazing for our family. We know we’re not alone.”

Thank you Candace, for sharing your story and raising awareness of brain tumours! 

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Story posted: October 2015

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