When Jamaal Hodges was born to NBA player Craig Hodges and his wife, Carlita Hodges, the joy of raising a healthy baby boy quickly turned to a cause of concern.
During Jamaal’s infant years, the Hodges noticed that he dragged his right foot, fell often and had reverted from being potty trained to losing bladder control. The Hodges met with Jamaal’s pediatrician to get answers.
“I was worried about him,” Carlita Hodges said. “Something was wrong.”
Jamaal went through a series of tests including a biopsy.
At 3 years old, Jamaal was diagnosed with Grade IV Astrocytomas commonly called glioblastoma multiforme or GBM, one of the most common and aggressive primary brain tumors. Astrocytomas can appear in various parts of the brain and nervous system, including the cerebellum, the cerebrum, central areas of the brain, the brainstem and the spinal cord.
Astrocytoma is the most common glial tumor, a form of brain cells, and can occur within the brain and spinal cord.
How does that happen? Anyone can get a glioblastoma. Typically, adults are affected after the age of 50 years old. Children are normally around 9 to 10 years old when diagnosed. Brain tumors are the most common cancer among the ages of 0-19.
Jamaal’s tumor was located inside his spinal cord.
“We were devastated,” Carlita Hodges said. “The grim news, according to the doctors, was that Jamaal was not expected to live beyond his fifth year.”
The Hodges went into survival mode and did everything possible to save their son.
According to research by EverydayHealth.com, for the very small number of children who are able to have nearly the entire tumor surgically removed, survival rates may be a bit better. But survival rates are generally less than 5 percent at five years after treatment.
Jamaal’s pediatrician advised surgery.
During the 18-hour surgery, the surgeon discovered a tumor the size of a quarter and confirmed that Jamaal’s bladder and bowel were being squeezed by the tumor, which caused his constant falling and incontinence.
The surgical team removed as much of the tumor as possible; however, complete removal was too risky. Radiation was administered to reduce the size of the tumor.
Jamaal remained in the hospital for six weeks. He had to wear a back brace for two years.
Unfortunately, he began to drag his foot again. The nerves in his right foot and leg were permanently damaged. Recurrence is common and the cancer had returned. Jamaal underwent five additional radiation treatments.
“I made sure he ate healthy,” Carlita Hodges said. “Jamaal wore a leg brace and continued to fall periodically but he was determined to be active athletically as a growing boy.”
The tumor interfered with the growth of his right foot, which was three sizes smaller than his left foot.
In high school, despite his physical challenges, he made the basketball team every year.
“It was in his DNA,” said Carlita Hodges, who has been divorced from Craig for 18 years. “Jamaal’s father, Craig, played 10 years in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.
“Most recently, Craig was the interim head coach of the Westchester Knicks of the NBA Development League.”
Jamaal endured pain and discomfort from his leg brace but worked through it, which unfortunately, caused further damage to his foot.
“He continued to struggle with his right foot,” his mom said. “During his sophomore year in high school, the smallest toe was damaged beyond repair and had to be amputated.”
The amputation did not stop him from playing until he graduated in 2003 from Rich East High School in Park Forest, Illinois.
In 2008, he graduated from his dad’s alma mater, Cal State Long Beach. Two years later, Jamaal was in and out the hospital battling an infection caused by his damaged foot.
Today, Jamaal, 31, continues to monitor his medical condition but still suffers from the residual effects of the tumor and amputation. He is a caregiver for his grandmother who has dementia. Jamaal defied the odds and is a survivor.
The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation reports:
• More children die of brain tumors than any other form of cancer.
• In the United States, more than 28,000 children and teenagers are living with the diagnosis of a primary brain tumor.
• About 4,600 children and teenagers are diagnosed with a primary brain or central nervous system tumor each year. That’s 13 new cases per day.
• There are more than 100 different types of brain tumors.
• Seventy-two percent of young people diagnosed with a brain tumor are younger than age 15.
Children may have different symptoms than adults, and symptoms of glioblastoma may differ among children. Common symptoms include: headache, often upon awakening in the morning; fatigue, seizures, weakness and other motor dysfunction of an area of the body (particularly in the arms and legs); bowel and/or bladder dysfunction; abnormalities in the neuro-endocrine system; and behavioral changes or abnormal thought processes.
For more information and resources, go to American Brain Tumor Association, www.abta.org; American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org; American Childhood Cancer Organization, www.acco.org; Brain Tumor Foundation for Children, www.braintumorkids.org; Cancer Support Community, www.cancersupportcommunity.org/; Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States, www.cbtrus.org; Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation, www.cbtf.org; Genetic and Rare Diseases, www.rarediseases.info.nih.gov/GARD; Livestrong Foundation, www.livestrong.org; National Brain Tumor Society, www.braintumor.org; National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov; Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, www.pbtfus.org; and PLGA Foundation, www.fightplga.org/; Rare Cancer, www.rare-cancer.org.
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, is a public relations consultant and the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.