Thirteen-year-old Mason Hargrove is like a lot of boys his age.
He plays sports and likes to spend time with his friends and younger siblings.
He’s a 7th grader who suits up at wide receiver for the Russell County Middle School Laker Football Team. His coach says he’s a very kind and hard-working young man.
He has dreams of playing professional football or following in the footsteps of his parents, Ginger and Aaron, and becoming a United States soldier.
He earns extra money by helping his neighbors with odd jobs.
Mason, by all accounts, lives a pretty typical life of a 13-year-old boy in rural Kentucky.
Except Mason –and his family — watched their world turn upside down this year.
At just 13 years old, Mason is fighting medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor that starts in the lower back part of the brain called the cerebellum, which is involved in muscle coordination, balance, and movement.
According to The Mayo Clinic, it’s a rare form of cancer, but it’s the most common cancerous brain tumor in children.
Mason was diagnosed with medulloblastoma on Feb. 1. Mason’s mother, Ginger, said it all began as head and neck pain.
Ginger said she was a little concerned when she received a text message from her son on Jan. 19, asking if he could be picked up from school.
This was pretty unusual, according to Ginger. Mason typically enjoyed school, especially history classes. With the family’s military background, Mason had long been fascinated with the study of American wars throughout history.
So when she received that message, Ginger knew that her son must be feeling pretty sick. In his message, he complained of a bad headache, neck pain, and eye pain.
“He’s my child that will find every reason in the book on why he has to stay in school, so naturally I said yes that he could come home,” Ginger said.
A few days passed before Mason again started complaining of a bad headache and neck pain, except this time he began vomiting.
Ginger thought it was a tension headache, so she drove him to an urgent care where he received an injection to help with the headache. At this point, traditional pain relievers were doing no good.
“Tylenol and Advil were only taking the edge off at this point,” Ginger said.
That weekend, Mason remained sick.
“Late that Sunday night and early Monday morning, Mason had woke again and started vomiting,” Ginger said. “By then, I was concerned by the vomiting and took him to the emergency room. This time we thought it was a migraine and was treated as such. Excedrine was the new go to for his headaches.”
And for a few days, that seemed to help. Mason was back at school, still dealing with headaches that weren’t quite as severe, seemingly attributed to the fact he was taking migraine medication multiple times each day.
It took several days before Mason could get an appointment with his primary physician, scheduled for Jan. 31, a Monday.
But two days before, Mason was sick again. Back to vomiting with severe headaches. Ginger loaded her son in the car and made a second trip to the ER in a week.
This time, scans were performed on Mason’s head to find the culprit behind his sickness. The scans revealed fluid built up on both the right and left ventricles of the brain and a round mass in the back of his brain.
Ginger and Mason went to the doctor appointment that Monday, and after reviewing the scans, the doctor called the University of Kentucky Hospital and Mason was on his way to be treated for the mass in his brain.
The doctors wasted little time. Mason had a procedure that Wednesday to go in and remove the tumor. That surgery provided the Hargrove family with the official diagnosis of medulloblastoma.
The surgery was deemed successful, but there was one issue the surgeons couldn’t avoid. The tumor was in area that affected a number of brain functions, such as speech and movement.
“Mason has had to learn to sit, walk, talk and do everyday functions all over again,” Ginger said.
A challenge for sure, but Ginger said she had no doubt her son was up for the task.
She was right. On Tuesday, Feb. 22, Mason graduated rehab from Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation.
This came as no surprise to Ginger though. She knew her son.
Mason was no stranger to challenges his whole life.
At just three-years-old, Ginger said she noticed Mason did things a little differently than his siblings. He was facing some other difficulties too, Ginger said, and so she wanted him to be evaluated for autism.
That kicked off a three-year process — or as Ginger describes it, a fight — to get her son diagnosed. At age six, Mason was officially diagnosed with autism.
During that time, Ginger worked rigorously with Mason on things like making eye contact, conversing with people, and how to control and express his emotions.
It’s been a challenge for Mason, she said, but most of their friends never realized he had autism until Ginger said something about it.
“He acts like any normal teenage boy his age,” Ginger said.
While Mason has tackled multiple challenges in his life up to this point, Ginger said she realizes there are plenty more to go.
Mason and his family will go for an assessment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where he will prepare for radiation treatments and chemotherapy.
There will be a lot of back-and-forth for treatments at CCH. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments for six weeks. Back home for six weeks. Then back again for another six weeks of treatments. From there, Ginger said, they’ll be able to finish chemo treatments at UK Children’s Hospital, hopefully returning home for good in July.
And while the traveling and treatments will be costly, multiple local efforts have been — and are continuing to be — made to assist the Hargrove family. The Russell County Middle School Football team launched a t-shirt fundraiser and the Caretakers Riding Club has set up a benefit ride for March 19 (more details on that here).
Additionally, a GoFundMe has been set up to assist the family with travel and medical expenses.
Ginger said she’s been amazed at the support from the community. The family moved to Russell County from California more than a year ago and she said she never would have imagined this kind of support.
“This kind of community response would never have been possible if we were still there,” Ginger said. “So from the bottom of our hearts we thank everyone. Those two little words never feel like enough… Big tears well up in my eyes every time I think about it and I wish there was something, some way that I could thank everyone who has had a hand in all this.”
The funds donated to the family will not only help with expenses from undergoing treatment and being away from home, but also help with the purchase of a wheelchair, shower chair, bed rails and much more.
“None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for our awesome community pulling together to help support one of their own,” Ginger said.
To keep up with Mason, follow Mason’s Journey on Facebook.