Sons help mom in fight against cancer

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Sunday, May 12, 2013

By Donna Boynton TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

GRAFTON —  Jake Mayerhauser had been pedaling his bicycle for 3.5 miles when he dropped it in front of his mother and got off. His face pale, the 7-year-old said to her, “I think I am going to throw up.” 

He drank a quick cup of Gatorade, and then headed back to his bicycle to finish a charity ride. 

“I can’t stop. I have one more lap,” little Jake said. “My legs hurt, but it’s all for Mom.” 

Jake’s mom, 38-year-old Malini Mayerhauser, has a form of brain cancer called anaplastic astrocytoma Grade 3. An inoperable egg-sized tumor was found in 2007, but after aggressive treatment, the tumor became dormant. This past year, Mrs. Mayerhauser learned that three more small tumors were found beneath the larger tumor, and was diagnosed a second time. 

As she is continuing her treatment, Mrs. Mayerhauser is embracing the moments life presents to her — the challenges and the celebrations. 

“I don’t want cancer to define who I am. I don’t want to be remembered as a cancer patient. I want to be remembered as the person who I am against cancer, treasuring my life and every moment I have,” Mrs. Mayerhauser said. “If the clock is ticking, why sit down and be depressed and cry. You have the ability to make memories.” 

One of those memories was made yesterday, as Mrs. Mayerhauser made her First Communion at St. Mary’s Church with her oldest son, 10-year-old Aedan. 

Mrs. Mayerhauser, an elementary school science teacher, is married to her college sweetheart, Jeff Mayerhauser. 

In 2007, Mrs. Mayerhauser began to get bursts of debilitating migraine headaches. The headaches would last only for seconds, but were crippling. They increased from one a day to two or three an hour. 

Her symptoms soon worsened. She couldn’t hold a pencil to write her name. The right side of her body would freeze in a mild seizure when the migraines would strike. 

A CT scan revealed an “unknown growth” on her brain. 

Mrs. Mayerhauser had a choice — fight or flight. 

She chose fight. 

The day of what would prove to be the first battle in a long fight, she laced up her sneakers and donned her running clothes, just as she has done since she was a teenager in Pearl River, N.Y., training for track and cross-country. She was going to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for a craniotomy. Her husband thought she was going to run away when they arrived at the hospital; instead she sprinted toward the door. As she waited for the procedure to begin, she did pushups against the wall in her hospital johnny. 

The procedure determined that Mrs. Mayerhauser had a malignant tumor on the left hemisphere of her brain. It was inoperable. 

When the hair stopped growing on the spot of her craniotomy, she shaved her head, and her family started calling her G.I. Jane. 

“I loved watching each strand of hair fall down. I wondered how long the tumor had been inside of me. It was so cleansing,” Mrs. Mayerhauser said. 

As she recovered at home, her mother-in-law reminded her of all the successes she had had in her life thus far — graduating from Harvard University, becoming a teacher and then a teacher-in-charge, becoming a wife, and becoming a mother — all accomplishments that were achieved while a large tumor was growing in her brain. Her mother-in-law added: “Imagine what you can accomplish now that the fight is on.” 

“I had six years of normalcy,” Mrs. Mayerhauser said. “I went back to running, to exercising, to cleaning my house and taking care of my little guys. I was beginning to think I am going to be OK.” 

But in February 2012, an MRI detected the additional tumors. And she began to fight again. 

“I thought, if I have a chance not to give up, then why not take it?” Mrs. Mayerhauser said. “I feel so lucky with the life I have, with my family, my friends, all of the cards and messages from people I didn’t even know.” 

Her husband and sister started peppering doctors with questions about what to expect with this diagnosis and the side effects of treatment. 

“I said, ‘Let’s get started. I don’t care what the symptoms are. We are fighting,’ ” Mrs. Mayerhauser said. “I don’t care if I am shaving my head again. I don’t care if I turn purple.” 

Mrs. Mayerhauser was being treated with a high dosage of Temodar. When a fourth growth appeared in a recent MRI, they switched her treatment to a drug called lomustine (CCNU), which she started on Thursday. The doctor overseeing her treatment at Dana-Farber in Boston is Dr. Patrick Wen. 

“I don’t care about the symptoms. The offering is there. My attitude is there,” Mrs. Mayerhauser said. “I have to tell you, there are moments when all I do is make eye contact, and there are no words to describe what the definition of love means. Life has become that simple. It is about the simplicity of life. Who am I fighting for? One word keeps coming back to me — love. To keep fighting, to be surrounded by that love when you take that last breath, there is nothing greater than that.” 

Mrs. Mayerhauser is not just drawing on the love of her family, but friends and strangers. 

Last weekend, her sons rode in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge Shrewsbury-Grafton Kids Ride along with 20 other children as part of Team Malini, a team organized by the family’s neighbor and friend Nancy Paulauskas. 

As Aedan finished the ride he was met by his mother at the finish line. 

“At the end of the race, he was smiling, panting and sweating,” Mrs. Mayerhauser said. “I hugged him so tight and he whispered into my ear, ‘All of this is for you Mom. I did this for you.’ ” 

And that was the purpose of the ride, Mrs. Paulauskas said, to make children feel like they were doing something positive to bring about a cure for cancer. 

The Mayerhauser boys do other little things, too, that only children can do, their mom said. 

“When we blow out a birthday candle, or split a fortune cookie, they’ll whisper to me, ‘I know we are supposed to keep the wish quiet in order for it to come true, but we want cancer to end. Not just for you, Mom, but for everyone.”’