Superheroes - fighting childhood cancer together


Mitchell Montalbano and Brooks Russell have been friends for years and the two share a special boyhood bond - an extreme love of superheroes; especially Spiderman.

That instinct for the hero to survive could be what gets Mitchell, 4, and Brooks, 6, through childhood as the two share yet another common bond - childhood cancer.

Mitchells story began just five weeks ago.

I had noticed over a couple of weeks that his color was changing - he was pale and his eating habits had changed and he was slimming down, his mom, Kristy Montalbano said.

After running a fever of 102 degrees, Mitchell was taken to the doctor; first checked for a virus, then anemia. When bloodwork came back with results that were in line with patients who had leukemia, Mitchell was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he was diagnosed and started on Chemotherapy two days later.

On Thursday, Mitchell underwent a spinal tap and another bone marrow test.

Its all new to the little boy who revels in wearing superhero costumes to Cracker Barrel and just about everywhere else he goes and though the chemotherapy and steroids are tiring him, Montalbano said she and her family are staying positive.

The doctors say there is an 80 to 90 percent cure rate - its just a very long process and as far as remission, it just depends on his genetic makeup and his body, Montalbano said.

Brooks story began several years ago.Kari Russell first became concerned about her son when he was just two-years-old.

I noticed he ran funny, but I just chalked it up to him being two - he was our first child and we didnt know what to expect, Russell said.

Over the next two years, Russell said she became more concerned when Brooks could not dress himself from the waist down and was having trouble bending over. At first, she was told by doctors that some children didnt like to put their clothes or shoes on. But her maternal instincts told her it was more than that.

I didnt like what he said and I told him. Its not a wont - its a cant - he physically cant do it, Russell said, adding Brooks would be four before doctors would finally diagnose his condition. They did an MRI a day after his fourth birthday and found a large tumor in his spinal cord - they think it had been growing since he was younger.

Brooks underwent surgery in May of 2012.

They were only able take some of (the tumor) in order for it to not permanently paralyze him, Russell said. When he woke up, he was paralyzed from the waist down for six weeks and had to relearn to walk.

After the surgery Brooks underwent Chemotherapy treatments for a year and still has physical therapy and occupational therapy each week. Next month, hell return to the doctor to see if the tumor has grown.

Its a very slow growing tumor so they want to make sure its really is growing and not shifting, Russell said.

Despite a little trouble walking and an occasional fall, the six-year-old has learned to trudge through the disruption like a superhero - just like his longtime friend Mitchell.

As the boys move forward in their fight against childhood cancer, other family members are also learning to cope with the changes.

It has changed things - everything revolves around Mitchell, Montalbano said. His brother, Corbin, who is 14, seems to be doing well - he understands the severity of it, but Joseph, 6, doesnt really get it - all he sees is Mitchell getting a ton of presents and attention. Hes not ugly about it, but doesnt understand. He knows Mitchell is sick, but he really doesnt know what it is.

As hundreds of balloons were released Sunday at GodWhy Church in honor of September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Mitchell and Brooks - both clad in their favorite costumes - were there to see it all and they will continue to fight their battles together; just like superheroes.

© 2014 The Hendersonville Standard

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