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‘Izenman’ takes on brain cancer

Four-year-old Izen Becker was diagnosed with brain cancer in November, but he took it on as ‘Izenman.’

Izen’s mother, Danielle, said that when he started his radiation treatment at Mayo he got his PICC line put in his chest and declared himself ‘Izenman.’

“Izen got a PICC line inserted into his chest and that’s the day Izen told us he is now Izenman because he’s like Ironman because he had something in his chest that could make him powerful and really help with his life,” she said.

Danielle said Izen started complaining of headaches in September but after visits to the eye doctor and his pediatrician, he passed their tests. In October he started waking up in the middle of the night with headaches about three times a week. His blood work came back showing an infection. He passed another neurological exam in October. They got into a neurologist Nov. 9 where he passed another neurological exam.

“I really had to advocate for him to get an MRI because it wasn’t normal for a 4-year-old to be waking up in the middle of the night,” Danielle said.

On Nov. 29 he got an MRI and they found a tumor about the size of a chicken nugget on the cerebellum. He was diagnosed with ependymoma WHO grade 3, which is an aggressive cancer that has a 50 percent chance of recurrence within the first 13 months to two years.

They were referred to a neurosurgeon at Sanford and Mayo. He had surgery to remove the tumor Dec. 6 and spent four days in the hospital.

“When word got out that Izen had this, we had a special blessing on the Sunday before he had surgery. We attend St. Nicholas Catholic Church there in Tea and on that Sunday they did a special blessing at the end of mass and Izen got to go up in front of everybody and just gave them his biggest smile. It was really heartwarming how much that meant to us to have that,” Danielle said. “On the day of surgery is St. Nicholas Day and they actually opened the church up for special prayer for Izen. I just believe that all that prayer gave us a good start for this.”

Izen’s surgery was successful and had the best case scenario. Since the tumor was engulfed in the nerve to his left shoulder, he was unable to sit up on his own when he was discharged. As a left-handed child, it was been a challenge, but physical therapy helped him to now be able to do everything above expected age level. He continues with occupational therapy to help strengthen his left shoulder. He can feed himself and write with his left hand again.

After surgery he was also unable to speak for a time. Eight days after surgery he started saying a few words. Before they had their consult with speech therapy he already had all of his sounds back.

After the surgery, he went to Mayo for photon beam radiation, which is a precise radiation. Izen was fitted for his radiation mask Jan. 9 and started radiation Jan. 10. Because of his age, Izen had to be sedated each weekday morning for radiation. He had 33 sessions of radiation before he was able to ring the bell with his family - parents, Tony and Danielle, and siblings, Easten, 10; Kasen, 8; Hudsen, 6; Vivian, 2; and Rowan, 2 months - Feb. 23.

Danielle was 32 weeks pregnant when Izen was diagnosed. Since the radiation was so targeted, she was able to be in Mayo with Izen while pregnant. Her doctor induced her at 40 weeks and she was able to have Rowan in Sioux Falls.

Danielle and Tony were able to be with Izen for his treatments and would bring Vivian along as well sometimes. They were able to come home on the weekends. Thankfully the weather only hampered them coming home after Izen rang the bell and none of his treatments were delayed.

They had a lot of support in Tea with family members rotating through the house with their other children. They are thankful for everyone who participated in the meal train to help everyone at home get through the week without worrying about getting to the store.

“Another great support while we were in Rochester was our boys’ friends’ parents, who they were on a team with, assisted with getting our boys to and from wrestling (Hudsen) and basketball (Easten and Kasen) practice as well a friend taking them all to religious education on Wednesday as needed. This helped keep things as ‘normal’ as it could with Mom and Dad being gone,” Danielle said. “Our friends have just rallied around us, letting us know that we are not alone in our journey with Izen.”

Today, Izen is doing well. He had his post-radiation scan about two months ago and there was no evidence of disease. He will have another scan in June and every three months for a while.

“Izen’s smile gave us hope and strength through this journey,” Danielle said.


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