When surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy fail to stop cancer, some patients decide to stop treatment, and focus on making the most of the time they have left. "But what happens when a child, your 9-year-old son, looks up at you and says, 'I'm done' fighting cancer?" asks Carolyn Castiglia at Babble. The parents of Ryan Kennedy, a Michigan boy who is a week from his 10th birthday, had to confront just such a devastating moment. Here, a brief guide to their tragic and brave decision:
When was Ryan's cancer diagnosed?
He was diagnosed with ependymoma, a rare form of brain cancer, in 2007, when he was 4. The disease attacks the central nervous system, and has caused him to walk into walls and vomit frequently. Over the last five years, his treatments have included four rounds of chemotherapy, two bouts of radiation, and seven surgeries.
Why does he want to end his treatments?
His most recent operation, to remove a tumor at the base of his brain, left the right side of Ryan's face paralyzed in August 2011. That was when the boy told his mother, "No more." In February of this year, Ryan's mother, Kimberly Morris-Karp, told him that doctors had proposed another operation that might help him live several more months, but could leave him on breathing and feeding tubes. Ryan cried, and said again, "I'm done with this." He said he just wanted to "live the rest of his life."
How did his parents respond?
"The selfish part of me wanted to say, 'No, I want you to do this,'" Morris-Karp tells the Oakland, Mich., Press, "but I said, 'OK, this is what you want.'" Ryan's parents continued asking him every week whether he was sure he didn't want any more treatment. Every time, he said, "Yup, I'm sure."
What has Ryan been able to do since his decision?
Ryan wanted to go swimming, so the whole family — Ryan, his parents, and his brother and sister — took a vacation so he could do just that. At this point, Ryan is spending his last days at home in hospice care. He has nearly died twice, and has said tearful goodbyes to his brother and sister. His birthday is May 24, but doctors don't expect him to survive that long.
How is the family spending Ryan's last days?
They've let Ryan know about the outpouring of support and promises of prayers they have received since news of his illness spread on Twitter. Celebrities, including Britney Spears and Alyssa Milano, have joined in expressing support. Morris-Karp says she hopes the publicity is spreading awareness of cancer, and she knows it's touching her kids. "It's nice," she says, "for them to see the outpouring of compassion people have."