If you want to see how strong someone is, don't look at what's happening in their life. Instead, look at how they deal with what is happening in their life. Case in point: Lisa Hood. She faced struggles that no parent should have to go through. But she went through them, and she came out on top.
Born in Melrose Park, IL and raised in Addison IL, Hood moved with her family to Lockport, IL when she was a teenager. It wasn't until 1996 that she moved to Northwest Indiana.
Hood became a resident of Chesterton in 2003 when she remarried to her husband, Jeff. A mother of three energetic boys, Bret, Bailey, and Cody, Hood had her hands full.
In 2002, Hood's oldest son, Bret, began suffering from symptoms like vomiting, neck pain, extreme tiredness, and unsteady gait. Doctor's couldn't diagnose the problem and the symptoms persisted.
"One day he had double vision and I decided to take him to ER at Porter Memorial Hospital," Hood said. "They immediately did a CT scan and found the tumor in his head. An emergency surgery was performed to relieve the pressure building up around his brain. The doctors said that due to the severity of his condition, Bret would need to be cared for by pediatric specialists. So we chose The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago."
The very next day, Bret was air lifted to the hospital. Once there, an MRI was performed and the results showed that Bret had Stage 4 Medulloblastoma brain cancer. Surgery was performed three days later to try and resect the tumor, but it had spread over the entire surface of his brain.
"Bret was put on a six week regimen of brain and spinal radiation which was to be followed by fourteen months of chemotherapy," Hood said. "He wasn't expected to survive."
The radiation and chemo were harsh on Bret's little body. He began to have seizures and was put into a medically induced coma with anti seizure medications. He had an allergic reaction to the anti seizure medications called Steven-Johnson syndrome, which is a rash that covers the body. The Chemo and radiation treatment were stopped and Bret began to make a turn for the better.
But the road was still long for him and his family. Complications and treatments kept Bret in and out of the hospital for a long time and finally the chemo and radiation were put to a stop because they were just too hard on him. On top of being there for Bret, Hood had two other boys to take care of. She did her best to make sure that live was as normal as possible for them, not letting the situation get the better of her. Her husband Jeff helped to keep vigil on the boys, providing love and care to her and them.
Eventually, Bret was able to come home. The chemo and radiation had taken their toll, leaving Bret developmentally delayed. Teacher Michelle Colby of Liberty Elementary volunteered to home-school Bret for a few years and then he went to SELF School in Valpo.
"He loved it," Hood said. "When I brought him in to the class he lit up. He was so happy to be back in school. He immediately connected with the students."
Bret had apraxia and aphasia which limited communication for him. But that didn't stop him from getting his point across.
"When he wasn't able to communicate the way he wanted to he would look at you and say, 'Love you. Love you more'," Hood said.
Throughout the entire time, Hood and her family watched over Bret. There was never a time when he was alone and he brought up those around him with his positive and loving nature.
"We had such a great support system from all sides of our families and the support of everyone was phenomenal. It was challenging but you had to do what you had to do," Hood said. "He never complained or cried. Bret was always positive."
For many years, Bret lived with his family and went to school. His checkups were spaced further and further apart, and he thrived. Hood was a stay-at-home mom and was Bret's primary caregiver, which enabled her to spend precious moments with him. But in late 2011, his health began to decline again and a CT scan had showed that the tumor had returned. On May 25, 2012 Bret passed peacefully.
Bret was set to graduate that year, and when SELF School learned that his tumor had returned, the pushed his graduation date earlier and had a special ceremony just for him.
"People sent cards and graduation gifts. People that heard about him and his story but never met my boy became inspired," Hood said.
And Hood and her husband became inspired, too. They used the money that was sent to Bret and created the Bret Laczynski Brain Cancer Research Fund. This Foundation collects and then donates money to the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and SELF School. Click here to find out more about the Bret Laczynski Brain Cancer Research Fund!
Each year, a golf outing and a dinner are hosted to generate funds for the foundation. People come together to help raise money for and spread awareness about pediatric brain cancer. All together the amount raised in the past three years that the events took place totals around $229,000.00. To take part or sponsor these events, contact the organization.
Hood and her family continue to spread awareness and raise money for pediatric brain cancer research. The hope is to one day eradicate it all together but until then, Bret's story will serve as an inspiration to others and a precious memory to his family.