OSWEGO, NY – It’s been three years since Cassi Munger heard the word “cancer” from her son’s pediatric doctor.
As she recalls it, all she could focus on were the intensely bright fluorescent lights of the office, catching only bits and pieces of what the doctor was saying.
Being assured her family would find a “new normal” while her then three-year-old son would begin his battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, she wasn’t sure life would ever be the same.
Now, three years later, her family will soon be transitioning to a new normal yet again: life after cancer.
A successful surgery just days after diagnosis in July 2015 left young Brayden with a port in his side for long-term chemotherapy treatment. Though most intense in the beginning, he has steadily been receiving chemo for the past three years of his life.
On Tuesday, August 7, Brayden will receive his final IV chemo treatment and with his family by his side he will be able to ring the bell to signify the end of his journey, he will have officially beat cancer.
“I don’t know how to feel yet,” Cassi said. “It’s weird because we have learned our ‘normal,’ and now we’re going back to a different normal. We won’t have to worry about scheduling around Brayden’s medications or treatments anymore. I don’t know what life will be based around now,” she laughed.
To get here wasn’t an easy ride by any means, she said. What began as complaints of leg pains soon led to trouble walking, leading Brayden’s mother and father, Doug Munger, as well as doctors and nurses at Upstate Cancer Center believing Brayden may be showing signs of having the same blood disorder his older brother, Zach, has.
But routine blood work came back normal, the chance for the same blood disorder recurring was slimming. As symptoms worsened and Brayden presented a fever, doctors ordered a bone marrow biopsy.
When a nurse told the Mungers the doctor needed to see them after his surgery, Brayden’s parents knew “probably the worst was going to happen,” Cassi said.
And it did.
The bone marrow biopsy showed standard risk leukemia and after a quick weekend at home before the chaos truly began, Brayden’s surgery was scheduled for the following week with a 28-day delayed intensification period.
A steroid made him gain weight, treatment affected his behavior causing him to act out, and everyday frustrations like not being able to swallow pills at just three-years-old became giant hurdles.
“It changed him, and made him act not like himself. Then he lost his hair. It was hard because he was fine, but he looked different and it was changing him. It wasn’t him, and that’s when it was the hardest,” Cassi said.
Through each hardship, the families of Cassi and Doug Munger were the backbone for support.
Within hours of finding out Brayden’s diagnosis, the Munger house was filled with family. Silent, they were simply offering support in their presence- cooking meals, helping to take care of the Mungers two older sons, Zach and Ethan, and offering several shoulders to cry on.
“With our families, when something traumatic like this happens, they don’t even think or ask. They all are just there. Everyone was in a weird spot, it was quiet, but just having them there was what we needed,” Cassi said.
Within a few weeks, the Munger’s family had organized a fundraiser on their behalf. As such, the annual “Play for Bray Volleyball Tournament” was born.
In the first year, the Mungers received half of the proceeds of the tournament while the other half was donated to Upstate Cancer Center and Golisano Children’s Hospital.
Year after year, the event is held at Cheap Seats Sports Bar and Grille in Oswego who donates a portion of all food and beverage sales and year after year, Kyle and Son Spray Foam Insulation donates event t-shirts for participants and for sale to spectators and the public.
All proceeds, including those from a 50/50 raffle, team entry fees, and t-shirt sales are used for purchasing items off the wish list to benefit families going through the same thing the Munger family has undergone for years.
The items are given to Sarah Buck, child life specialist at Upstate Cancer Center where they are dispersed for use between clinic at Upstate Cancer Center and the inpatient oncology floor in Golisano Children’s Hospital.
The event typically raises an average of $3,000 each year to purchase wish list items such as baby wipes, lollipops, tissues, playdoh, action figures, portable DVD players, band-aids, little people, and children’s illustration books.
Winning the 50/50 raffle last year, young Brayden instantly knew he was donating his winning portion back to “his hospital,” just one testament of the young boy’s unwavering generosity.
Now, at just seven years old, Brayden Munger will have beat cancer.
Just as impressive, at seven years old Brayden Munger continues to inspire others with a lesson well beyond his years by giving back to others even through his darkest days.