On a family vacation in 2011, Joseph started to feel very sick with headaches and throwing up. Initial tests and blood work came back normal, so his family thought he might just be severely dehydrated. After extra fluids didn’t help, additional tests found that Joseph had a 2-cm brain tumor and hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain”.
Once the Burkens made it home, Joseph started chemo therapy at the U of I Children’s Hospital to treat his tumor. Although he did well at first, eventually his body didn’t recover quickly from the treatment, so he was only able to complete 8 ½ of 10 prescribed chemo cycles.
This past August, Joseph had a “routine” MRI when his shunt (which keeps fluid off his brain) malfunctioned, so he had headaches and got sick whenever he sat up. He was life-flighted to the hospital in Iowa City, and although his parents couldn’t ride along his aunt was there to greet him in the helicopter. He underwent shunt surgery at 3am, and afterward his temperature spiked to 103 degrees. After two days of Tylenol, ice packs and fans blowing on him, his fever finally subsided.
“Through it all, he just puts on a smile and deals with it.”
— Julie Burken, Joseph’s mom
Joseph has three siblings: a 3-year old brother, a 5-year-old sister and a 9-year-old brother. With other young children, his mom Julie marvels now at how young Joseph was when he got sick, but also at how brave he was. In fact, the barber who shaved Joseph’s head when he started chemo found out a few months later that he ALSO had cancer. He told Joseph’s dad Wade that if Joseph could laugh and play through chemo, he knew he could pull it together and get through it too.
“The things that CMN provides make a huge difference in a child’s, and in turn a family’s, experience,” Julie says. “We have been so thankful.”