Battling Bruin: Tyler

Posted February 2013

Tyler has been a Bruin since the day he was born. His first baby clothes were bought at the UCLA student store, and I used to sing, "We Are The Mighty Bruins" to him as a lullaby. From the time he was little, going to UCLA games has been one of his favorite things in the world. As fate would have it, it was at a UCLA basketball game that I first noticed that things weren't right with Tyler. His eyes seemed swollen and he was having trouble catching his breath when he was cheering. We took him to the doctor the next day, and he was misdiagnosed as having severe allergies. However a few weeks later, his breathing almost stopped entirely. We rushed him to the emergency room where an x-ray revealed the true source of his problem. A giant mass had grown in his chest, crushing his airway and forcing fluid to pool in his face. He had Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Shortly thereafter, Tyler began what was planned to be a two year regimen of chemotherapy, and fortunately, he went into remission rather quickly. We were hopeful that the cancer would be eliminated entirely. However in the 18th month of treatment, Tyler began to have spells of dizziness, headaches and difficulty walking. His oncologist performed a spinal tap (removing cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal canal), which revealed that the cancer had returned and taken up sanctuary in his central nervous system.

His relapse did not respond as well to chemotherapy the second time around. He would briefly go into remission, only to see the cancer return shortly thereafter. Doctors tried a more aggressive approach by implanting a shunt into the ventricles of his brain called an Ommaya Reservoir. This allowed chemotherapy to be delivered directly into the cerebral fluid to have a more direct impact. It did have an impact on the cancer in his central nervous system, but by then, the cancer had also moved into his bone marrow.

Once the cancer was in the marrow, doctors decided that Tyler's best chance was a bone marrow transplant. The philosophy behind a bone marrow transplant to treat lymphoma/leukemia is to essentially wipe out all of the white blood cells- both cancerous and healthy- in the body with high doses of chemotherapy and radiation, and then to rescue the patient with bone marrow from a healthy, matched donor. It is a very taxing process.

The biggest potential side effect from a bone marrow transplant is something called Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD), wherein the new immune system thinks various organs of the body are foreign and mounts an attack against them. A little GVHD is manageable, but from the beginning, Tyler had severe GVHD. His skin, lungs, eyes, and gut were all affected. For the next two years, Tyler found himself frequently in intensive care, nearing total blindness, and oftentimes, confined to a wheelchair.

However, whenever Tyler didn't have to be in the hospital, he always insisted on trying to do all of the things that he would have normally done when he was healthy. This of course included going to games at UCLA. At each game, the UCLA Spirit Squad always made sure that Tyler felt like he was part of the Bruin family. There was always a hug waiting from Joe and Josie Bruin, the Yell Crew would ask Tyler to help lead 8-claps, and the cheer and dance team invited him onto center court to dance to "Rover" after UCLA victories! They have all helped create so many memories that our entire family will cherish forever.

Throughout everything, Tyler has had an indomitable spirit and an energy that belies his condition. While he still battles with the lingering effects from his treatments, he is getting stronger every day. He is a Mighty Bruin!

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