Tanner Jayden Eichele was born on November 12, 2007, bringing the greatest joy imaginable to two parents who were trying to conceive for 4 years. He was a happy baby, and started life as a perfectly normal child until he was diagnosed in September 2009, at the age of 22 months with a malignant brain tumor - alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a tumor growing behind his left eye and into his central nervous system. At 22 months, Tanner had his first of 4 brain surgeries, de-bulking his tumor and starting on his 40 week protocol of treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation. In December of 2009, he was declared NED (no evidence of disease) as there were negative PET scans showing that the tumor had responded to treatment. In June of 2010, Tanner bravely completed his treatment course. He had a celebratory barbeque with all of his friends and family. A week later, on a routine CT scan, it was determined that Tanner had "leptomeningeal enhancement" - he had relapsed, and worse. Tanner was immediately brought into surgery (after having massive seizure activity) and the cancer was found to be floating in his cerbro-spinal fluid and multiplying like wild-fire. He had a port put into his head (an ommaya reservoir) for treatment and for alleviation of hydrocephalus. He spent the next 3 weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit, undergoing life-saving radiation therapy, which was guaranteed to help him at the time, but long term effects were blindness, stunted growth, and degeneration of his growing brain.
3 weeks later, our little determined Tanner not only came home, he started walking again, speaking, eating and resuming his "normal" life. Although Tanner had to go back to the hospital as often as 3 times a week, he never let it get him down. Tanner was his happy self, laughing, playing with his new baby brother Chase (born in January 2010) and going to pre-school at The Morgan Center, a special school for children who are immunosuppressed. Tanner loved Thomas the Train, cars, trucks, planes, singing songs and being silly. He would often pull up his shirt and tell people that was his "situation" (pointing to his belly button). Tanner loved everyone around him, and would often tell random strangers at the grocery store "Love you!!". He loved sitting in his playhouse and watching TV, and he did not like sharing his toys with his brother - telling him all the time "that's mines!!"
When Tanner relapsed, the doctors said at best he had 6-8 weeks. When they sent him home from the ICU, they told us "take him home and enjoy him". Tanner lived for 9 good , happy months after his relapse diagnosis. He enjoyed life, and we lived every day to the fullest with him. We focused on his abilities more than his disabilities, and for this reason, we believe Tanner never truly knew he was "sick". He was just like everyone else... he went into the hospital giving out high-fives to everyone around him, and loved making people smile. It was his way of saying thank-you - a high five from Tanner was a very special gift.
On April 25th, 2011, one week after returning home from his wish trip to Disney World, Tanner took his last breaths at home, in bed snuggled between us, his mommy and daddy. The night before he passed, he managed to tell everyone in the room how much he loved us. He was the strongest, bravest little soul we knew, and although his time with us was short, it was 3 years that we wouldn't give up for the world. Tanner's spirit lives on in so many people, he inspired people while he was here, and he will continue to do so for many years to come. He will forever be missed, and forever be remembered. Our little dude.
My name is Melissa Eichele, and although I am known for many "hats" I wear, the one I wear the proudest is "mommy".
I grew up an average kid on Long Island, raised by my grandmother, attending private school my entire life. I was a good student, captain of the swim team, and student council president. I went to College with a scholarship, and graduated with a degree in nursing. After college, I married Andrew, who I met in high school. We bought the house I grew up in, fixed it up, and started our life together. I went to graduate school, got my masters degree in nursing, and Andrew worked as an electrician. We tried for 4 years to conceive and were finally blessed with our baby boy Tanner in November of 2007. In July of 2009, we found out we would be expecting a second baby the following April. In our eyes, our family was complete. We truly thought "life couldn't be more perfect".
Our world came crashing down in September of 2009 when Tanner was diagnosed with cancer. Until then, we thought of pediatric cancer as something we saw on TV, something that happens to "other people". We learned first hand how pediatric cancer can change your life from "perfect" to a complete nightmare in the blink of an eye. I took leave from my job as an ICU nurse for the next year and a half to sit by Tanner's side through every treatment and surgery. Andrew took long leaves of absence. When it comes to your child, nothing is more important - especially when you're fighting for his life. The world kept turning though, and the bills kept coming. We depended on family and friends, fundraisers, and charities for support. The Lexiebean Foundation was one of our biggest supporters, and at the time of Tanner's relapse, we were surprised with a gift from them, while we were in the ICU, that helped pay our mortgage that month. You can't imagine how scary it is to sit by your child's side, praying that he will live, and at the same time worrying about how to keep a roof over your heads so you will have somewhere to go "home" to. With a gift like that, all of a sudden, you can focus fully on your child - the burden of bills was just lifted.
I have fought the hardest fight of my life, and lost. Trying to keep my son Tanner alive, I would have given anything, including my own last breath. He was the light of my life, and I know in my heart I will never be the same. But Tanner still lives in my heart, and I hope to make a difference in the lives of families affected by pediatric cancer, in his name. In this spirit I have joined the Lexiebean Foundation so that I can help other families, so that their financial burdens can be lifted, so that they have someone to talk to who "gets what their going through" just as the Falabella's did for us, and so that everyone will always know my angel Tanner.