By Morgan Bryce
The swing of a golf club, swift kick of a soccer ball or lap swam in a swimming pool are everyday miracles for 10-year-old Trinity Christian School student Kendall Kendrick.
Diagnosed with a malignant, Stage IV medulloblastoma tumor in April 2015, Kendall’s battle and progress with the disease are experiences that will never be forgotten or taken for granted, according to his mother Julie.
“As I sit and watch him, tears just well up in my eyes and all I can say is, ‘thank you Lord. Thank you for allowing him to go forth and have a chance at life, ’” Julie said.
Kendall’s symptoms developed in 2013, but were dismissed by doctors as developmental issues.
During coach-pitch baseball season in 2014, Julie, her husband Randall and other families witnessed the first of what would become a series of vertigo-like experiences for Kendall that caused concern.
“There was a couple of times that he got up to bat, and he would have an occasional dizzy spell, stiffen up and fall straight to the ground. It happened every once in a while over a period of 6-8 months,” Julie said.
After hearing of the dizzy spells, their family physician scheduled an appointment for Kendall at Children’s Hospital of Birmingham, a visit more than 8 months away.
Other symptoms, like sporadic vomiting, memory loss and double vision, appeared in the months, weeks and days leading up to the appointment. After a CT scan showed a mass on his brain, doctors urged them to go immediately to Birmingham for treatment.
Within three days of their arrival in Birmingham, Kendall was in surgery, an 8-hour-long procedure to remove the mass growing on top of his cerebellum.
The operation was successful, but it was the first step of a long road of recovery for Kendall and his family.
In June 2015, the entire family relocated to Birmingham for the first of Kendall’s treatments. Randall, a longtime AT&T employee, was granted a transfer, and worked while Julie stayed with Kendall for treatments at the hospital.
A program of the nearby Homewood Church of Christ enabled the Kendricks to live in a rent-free apartment during their stay, and friends helped launch GoFundMe and Caring Bridge pages to help raise money for the family to cover their expenses.
Thanks to the emotional, physical and spiritual support that their family and friends provided, Julie said her family was able to navigate a scary, unsettling time in their lives.
“Most of the good days were days that people came by to visit. It can get very lonely, especially in a bigger city like Birmingham,” Julie said. “But people, from Kendall’s school, church, Opelika and here, were so generous to us, and just showered us with gifts, particularly time and money.”
Faith was another key component during the family’s time in Birmingham.
“Fear of the unknown was the biggest thing that we faced. It felt like (Kendall’s) sentence was here – he’ll either respond positively to the roadmap of medications and treatment, or he won’t,” Julie said. “All we could do was believe in the Lord, and we believed that He was with us no matter what. We were trusting Him and taking it one step at a time.”
Following more than a year of extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Kendall was cleared to return home in July 2016.
Doctors were uncertain of his physical and mental abilities to play competitive sports after his treatments, but that did not deter Kendall from learning how to swim and play golf during the last two years, as well as compete on his school’s c-team soccer program.
Andrew McGreer, TCS c-team soccer coach, said he admires Kendall’s spirit and attitude not only toward soccer, but the game of life.
“As his coach the last two seasons, (I’ve seen) Kendall exhibit a quiet but fierce fire that allows him to compete, and he’s not afraid. He’s a fighter,” McGreer said. “I gave him the most improved player (award) because of his desire to always improve, his desire to compete, never give-up attitude and his sense of pride when he wins the day.”
The month of May, also known as National Brain Cancer Awareness Month, serves as a time of reflection for Julie and her family.
Despite the hardships endured the last three years, she said they served as a means of further gelling them together.
“We learned a lot about commitment during that time – for better or for worse, for sickness or in health – whether it be our child or one another, we’re in it together,” Julie said.
Kendall now has scheduled MRIs every six months to keep tabs on his health and recovery. He will enter the fifth grade at TCS this fall, and looks forward to a summer of hanging with friends, drawing, playing golf and watching his favorite athlete, Lebron James.
For more information about medulloblastoma or National Brain Cancer Awareness Month, visit www.braintumor.org.