Mom, son helping to battle cancer

Published 10:51 am Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mother’s don’t want to see their children in pain. Worse still is when the child is an infant who has a rare form of cancer.

Vicksburg resident Lauren Forte first discovered something was wrong with her son Mario Gray Jr., when she took him to his two-month check up. When she would take pictures of her son on her phone, she always noticed a glare in his left eye where the flash was.

“I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was just my phone. The doctor didn’t even realize it,” Forte said.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Forte’s pediatrician referred her to a specialist at St. Jude Baton Rouge, La., Affiliate Clinic, which is a partner with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. There, Mario was diagnosed with unilateral retinoblastoma.

Retinoblastoma is an abnormal malignant tumor in the retina, commonly affecting young children. Only 250 children in America are diagnosed a year.

Forte has sponsored a team for her son – #teamMJ – and will participate in the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer in Baton Rouge on Saturday.

Forte didn’t know what to think once she got the diagnosis.

“I never heard of it. When you think of somebody with cancer you think ‘is he going to die?’ ‘Is it going to spread?’ ” Forte said.

Her experience at St. Jude helped her deal with the emotional rollercoaster she was on.

She was paired with another parent who went through a similar situation and Forte would talk to her about what she was going through. St. Jude also covered any medical expenses Gray’s insurance didn’t.

Forte was given the option of removing the eye or chemotherapy. She wanted to remove the eye instead of taking the risks of chemotherapy and the side effect associated with it, but eventually tried the chemotherapy.

Gray went through eight rounds of chemo. At first, the tumor in his eye began shrinking, but began separating and spreading.

While going through his chemo, Forte said her son was a happy baby and didn’t look as sick as other children going through similar treatment.

“He didn’t know what was going on,” Forte said. “All of my hair came out. All the nurses had on suits and I asked them is it possible that I came in contact with the chemo, but they said it was just stress.”

When they went back for a follow up, that’s when doctors told her the chemo wasn’t controlling the cancer and they had to remove his eye.

During his recovery process, Forte couldn’t work and Gray couldn’t go to daycare. He had a central line where he was getting his chemotherapy and the oncologists wanted him to keep it for six months after.

Because of the rarity of the cancer, Forte takes her son to St. Jude for a follow up every five weeks.

“They check both his orbits and make sure nothing has developed in his right eye.

Gray is now 2 years old and has a glass eye as a replacement.

Forte tries not to take his eye out much to keep it safe and prevent him with taking it out at school.

Forte will be accepting donations for Saturday’s St. Jude Walk/Run on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Pemberton Square Mall from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.