Community helps Buffalo Grove boy, 11, fight rare brain cancer

  • Joshua McFadden, 11, center, is fighting a rare form of brain cancer known as DIPG. He is with, from left, his mother, Lisa Dluger, sisters Lindsey and Jordan, stepsister Chloe Dluger and stepfather Dave Dluger at Jordan's bat mitzvah in January.

    Joshua McFadden, 11, center, is fighting a rare form of brain cancer known as DIPG. He is with, from left, his mother, Lisa Dluger, sisters Lindsey and Jordan, stepsister Chloe Dluger and stepfather Dave Dluger at Jordan's bat mitzvah in January. Courtesy of Lisa Dluger

  • Joshua McFadden, 11, fighting a rare form of pediatric brain cancer known as DIPG, is at his sister's Jordan's bat mitzvah in January, just weeks before the diagnosis.

    Joshua McFadden, 11, fighting a rare form of pediatric brain cancer known as DIPG, is at his sister's Jordan's bat mitzvah in January, just weeks before the diagnosis. Courtesy of Lisa Dluger

  • Joshua McFadden, 11, visits the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago where he is receiving treatment for a rare form of brain cancer called DIPG.

    Joshua McFadden, 11, visits the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago where he is receiving treatment for a rare form of brain cancer called DIPG. Courtesy of Lisa Dluger

 
By Megan McNichols
Daily Herald correspondent

Just a few months ago, Joshua McFadden was a typical 11-year-old -- playing video games, cheering on his beloved Green Bay Packers and hanging out with friends. In January when Joshua started experiencing headaches, blurred vision and intermittent vomiting, a battery of tests led to a diagnosis no one expected.

The fifth-grader at Ivy Hall Elementary School in Buffalo Grove was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG. Now, as Joshua battles this rare and aggressive pediatric brain tumor, an entire community is gearing up to lend support.

When doctors at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago delivered the diagnosis, Lisa Dluger, Joshua's mom, said the entire family was in disbelief. "It was surreal. We were in shock," she said. Their shock was quickly channeled into action as the family researched the disease and potential treatments.

Doctors explained that DIPG is a tumor of the brainstem, which controls critical functions including breathing, swallowing and blood pressure. The tumor's location and the way it infiltrates normal brain tissue make it especially difficult to treat. Standard treatments include radiation to slow the progression of the tumor and alleviate symptoms along with steroids to reduce swelling in the brain.

One week after his diagnosis, Joshua's regular school schedule was replaced with daily trips to Lurie for radiation. Now four weeks into the six-week radiation regiment, Joshua's symptoms are less pronounced and the family is settling into a routine they call "the new normal."

Joshua, whose favorite subject is math, attends school for one hour three times a week and is regularly visited by a tutor.

"He's tired -- but his spirits are high," said cancer charity and family advocate Bradley Egel. "Joshua's a really sweet, caring boy. His concerns are usually more for how others are feeling," he said.

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Meanwhile, a groundswell of support from friends, classmates, the Buffalo Grove community and total strangers has brought strength and comfort to Joshua and his family in the form of home-cooked meals, notes of encouragement and gas cards for travel expenses.

Egel initiated a "Go Fund Me" campaign that already has raised more than $31,000 to help cover medical expenses.

Based on Joshua's interest in technology, The Make-A-Wish Foundation is sending the family to Silicon Valley to visit Google's headquarters in a few weeks. And Joshua will be cheering on the Cubs in late April as the guest of first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

"People have been wonderful -- it's overwhelming the help and support we're getting," Dluger said.

On Friday, April 22, Ivy Hall School will host "Joshua's Jam," a walk for students and staff to celebrate Joshua and raise awareness and funds for the Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation. The foundation funds research to combat DIPG.

"On the local level, we want to celebrate Joshua -- everyone loves him and wants to connect with him," Egel said. "But it's also a way to empower the adults and students who care about Joshua to make a difference in the cause and directly affect the future of DIPG research."

For more information about "Joshua's Jam," email Egel at bradegel@comcast.net. Egel said he hopes people outside of the Buffalo Grove community will be touched by Joshua's story and donate or purchase T-shirts to support DIPG research.

"Whether they're from Arlington Heights or Arizona, we hope they'll buy a shirt, wear it on that day and then tell people why they're doing it," he said. "Spread the word -- there is something you can do."

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