Young cancer survivor is ‘back to being a kid again’

Although Tucker can now do many activities, he still has difficulty with some such as cursive writing, but his mother said he is trying diligently to master it. (Photo/Jennifer Neville)

A fall when he was 5 years old saved Tucker Davis’ life.

On Easter 2019, while standing in his living room in Virginia Beach, Tucker fell, hitting his head. Thinking he had a concussion, his parents, Adam and Kelly Davis, rushed him to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk – and learned he actually had a brain tumor.

Although Tucker needed brain surgery, Kelly considers the incident “a divine fall” because had the aggressive form of cancer not been discovered, it would have infected his spine.

The seven-hour surgery, which came a mere four days after diagnosis, removed 97% of the tumor; however, instead of recovering in the expected 24 to 48 hours, Tucker developed posterior fossa syndrome. According to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital website, that can cause problems with communication, motor skills and mood.

Tucker Davis (bottom right) and his family celebrate after his treatment for brain cancer ended in 2020. Tucker, who was five when diagnosed with brain cancer in 2019 and is now in remission, underwent proton therapy and chemotherapy. Pictured are his parents Adam and Kelly Davis and his brother Brooks, 3. (Photo/Kelly Davis)

“Over the next month, May of 2019, Tucker woke up very slowly, as if he was starting as an infant again. He had to learn everything – from focusing his eyes, holding his own neck up, sitting, moving his arms and legs, talking, crawling and eventually walking,” his mother explained.

“Through it all, he never complained. He wanted to get back to being a kid again, and so he just kept moving forward,” she said.

That summer, he received six weeks of proton therapy, a less invasive form of radiation, and he underwent “a light dose of chemotherapy,” Kelly said. A year later, in August, his first post-treatment MRI revealed that the remaining 3% of his tumor was gone.

Nevertheless, he had an additional six months of chemotherapy to ensure the cancer was killed at the cellular level, Kelly said. He also had physical and occupational therapy.

A loving school community

Tucker repeated kindergarten, and when he started first grade, his parents enrolled him at Star of the Sea (SOS), Virginia Beach, which educates pre-K3 through eighth grade. He is in third grade, while his younger brother, Brooks, attends first grade.

Principal Carey Averill described Tucker as kind, sweet and “a very happy young man.”

“He participates in everything. I’ve never seen him without a smile on his face. When he walks down the hall, he kind of has a little skip in his step,” she said.

Tucker said he likes the variety of classes at Star of the Sea – especially art, music, Spanish and library – but his favorite times of school are lunch and recess.

Kelly said the school’s loving, family-like atmosphere has proven beneficial for Tucker, who has lingering effects from the chemotherapy and posterior fossa syndrome. He is slower at processing information than his peers, has some physical limitations and has hearing loss.

“(SOS) has really been such a blessing,” Kelly said. “They will go above and beyond for the parents and the kids. It’s like one huge family.”

Adam added, “We knew right away that he was in the right place,” a feeling that was solidified that first autumn when Tucker had to run a mile. Knowing that Tucker was apprehensive, the coach talked with Kelly and Adam regularly to determine how to alleviate his fears. On the day of the run, the coach arranged for three eighth graders to run beside him while the other students cheered from the sidelines. By the end, much of the eighth-grade class was running with him as well.

“It was a joyful, tearful moment because everybody knew this was a huge, huge accomplishment for him,” said Diana Socha, Tucker’s first grade teacher.

Even before the mile run the students showed compassion and encouragement. One day at practice for the run, a fellow student assured him, “Tucker you can do it.” As a result, Tucker told his mother, “I ran as fast as I ever did because Cru believed I could do it.”

Kelly is confident the school would “rally around” Tucker and the family should his cancer come back.

“That’s what I feel like Star of the Sea teaches them. The kids are all really supportive of one another, and they cheer each other on for everything,” she said.

Fighting cancer with faith

Tucker was “wobbly at first,” still perfecting how to walk and talk when he entered SOS, his mother said. Now almost three years cancer-free, she said Tucker has resumed “normal” activities. He is an altar server at his family’s parish, Church of the Holy Family, Virginia Beach, swims competitively, plays golf, played basketball this past winter and is currently on the school’s track and field team.

Tucker is an c, representing the hospital at various functions as a cancer survivor. However, he still has difficulty with tasks such as riding a bike, tying his shoes and writing in cursive.

“No matter what the challenge is, he doesn’t think twice about doing it. It doesn’t even matter if it’s something that seems impossible for him. He’s going to try as hard as he can, and he’s very inspiring,” Kelly said.

Although Kelly worries that Tucker will fall ill again, she has hope. As she watched her son serve at the altar during this year’s Holy Week, she was comforted.

“I thought I would have to plan a funeral at this church, and here he is now as a server in it. Like what a miracle, so I think faith gives you those moments of realizing how lucky we are and those blessings,” she said.

“I guess it does give you strength, but it definitely gives you hope that someone’s looking out for you. Even if things go wrong, you have faith that there’s life after this life,” she added. “I can’t even fathom having no faith and having

Tucker Davis (right) is now an altar server at his parish, Church of the Holy Family, Virginia Beach. Next to him is John Schleicher. (Photo/Kelly Davis)

your child die.”

At the beginning of his illness, Tucker received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, and during his treatment, people across the country prayed for him. Many sent his parents prayer cards, Kelly said.

“It was awesome. I was so grateful for that. I think that what really carries you through are people praying for you,” Kelly said. “When you’ve been through something like cancer, having that faith to rely on and having it taught and re-enforced in the school day is really nice because when you’re at that point where you don’t know how things are going to go, that’s what you rely on.”

Adam said his faith gives him strength, confidence and reassurance.

Even though he can’t articulate it, Kelly believes Tucker has strong faith.

“He feels some kind of calming or peace with it, and when he’s altar serving, he’s not just a kid up there. You can feel him soaking it in. He’s very empathetic, and he always has been,” she explained.

Adam finds Tucker’s compassion inspirational.

“It’s amazing to see how he just takes how good and how kindly people treat him, and he turns it right back around and I think is kinder towards others as a result,” Adam said.

“To be able to see that kind of maturity in a young kid is really impressive and is a constant reminder on how I can work on being the best version of myself as well,” Tucker’s father added.

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