A 4-year-old Van Buren boy with cancer was granted his dream to meet Mickey Mouse.
Brayden Shields and his family returned Friday from a trip to Disney World in Florida, where Brayden was able to meet his favorite characters from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
"He loved it," said Brayden’s mother, Misty Shields. "He’s a generally happy kid, so it’s hard to make him any happier, but he was so excited being there and that it wasn’t just another hospital."
Make-A-Wish America granted the trip to Brayden, his parents and his siblings, as Brayden is a cancer patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Though Brayden’s not scared of going to the hospital, he knows that part of the trip will not be fun. Since his family has never taken a vacation since his birth, these are the only trips he knows, Misty said.
Brayden suffers from bilateral retinoblastoma, a form of cancer in which tumors form in both eyes. Born with the condition, Brayden was diagnosed at 7 months because doctors thought he merely suffered from a developmental delay, Misty said.
Because Brayden suffers from a genetic condition that prevents his body from fighting the cancer, he must undergo constant treatment to reduce the cancer, prevent it from spreading and destroy new tumor "seeds."
Brayden has underwent 11 bouts of chemotherapy and many of his eye exams are given while he is anesthetized, Misty said.
Uncountable laser and cryotherapy treatments - in which cancer cells are basically frozen - used to "zap" the cancer seeds have left scar tissue, she said.
A combination of damage from the cancer and the scarring from treatment has left Brayden with no vision in his right eye, and only 10 percent "spread out" vision in his left eye - no central vision, and limited peripheral vision, Misty said.
Though the family was told there was no possibility of Brayden regaining his eyesight, Misty said he sees shades and colors, and more than he is supposed to be able.
"He gets around really well," Misty said. "They tell us they’ve not seen a kid progress as well as he has with his eyesight."
Doctors work to preserve what little sight Brayden has left. In the meantime, they pushed for Misty to apply, via a St. Jude social worker, to Make-A-Wish so that Brayden would have some long-lasting memories.
The Shields family was notified at the end of 2013 that Brayden would be getting a trip to Disney World, along with his 9-year-old sister Anna and 6-year-old brother Peyton. The trip was March 8-14.
"He loved it," Misty said.
The family stayed in Give Kids the World Village, a resort close to Disney World for children with life-threatening illnesses.
"It’s a village of amazingness," Misty said. "Everything a child could think of they would want to do, it’s there."
Brayden did most of it, she said. He was able to eat all his favorite foods, have his "star" placed on the castle ceiling and ride on the Enchanted Carousel.
He even was a participant in "Village Idol," where he sang what Misty called his "cancer song," a six-line song she and Brayden made up about his fight against cancer, and Katy Perry’s "Roar."
They visited Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where Brayden met the characters from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
For Brayden, the highlight of the trip was when he met Sophia the First.
"She’s probably his favorite, because he’s a lady’s man and he thinks she’s his girlfriend," Misty said.
Brayden is considered in stable condition - there is no remission for his type of cancer, Misty said. Once he is five or six and his eyes stop growing, it is likely the recurrences of retinoblastoma also will lessen, she said.
Unfortunately, because of the cancer treatment and his genetic condition, constant vigilance for other forms of cancer will continue throughout Brayden’s life.
Misty is thankful, she said, to Make-A-Wish and everyone who helped give Brayden the experience and for the one lesson she hopes he learned.
"You don’t have to go through something bad to get to the good," Misty said. "Not always."