This is the last in The News Journal’s weekly series of stories on Child Cancer Awareness Month.
WILMINGTON – In her short life, Bethany Lorraine Ferriman touched a lot of lives.
The 2-and-a-half month old was born Aug. 15, 2013. Three weeks before she was born, though, her mother, Tara Ferriman, felt something was off.
“We thought she had fluid on her heart,” she said.
Tara and her husband, Zachary, went to the hospital to find out what was happening with their daughter.
The news was much worse than they thought it might be.
“(Doctors) said, ‘No, her heart’s fine, but she has a mass on her brain,’” Tara said.
Doctors found the tumor when Tara was 36 weeks pregnant with Bethany. The fact they found out about the mass before Bethany was born was rare, she said.
“It was very shocking,” she said. “I felt like my world was crumbling down.”
Not the first child to pass
Any parent would feel like their world was crumbling after receiving the news that their daughter has a mass on her brain, but it was especially hard for Tara, because she and her husband have already lost one child, their eldest, Nicholas.
Tara was pregnant with Nicholas when both she and her husband lost their jobs in 2009. Zachary lost his job first and the Ferrimans moved in with Tara’s grandmother. Three weeks after Zachary lost his job, Tara lost hers.
A couple of days after later, Tara thought something was wrong in her pregnancy. She said Nicholas usually woke up and would kick whenever she got up and moved around or ate.
“I noticed he was not moving,” she said.
She went to the hospital, where they did an ultrasound. The doctors did not find a heartbeat.
Tara was only 27 weeks pregnant, and she and Zachary were married for less than a year, when they lost Nicholas.
“It was really challenging on our marriage,” she said.
Bethany was Tara’s third child, and first girl. After Nicholas passed away, Tara gave birth to her other son, Brayden, in 2010.
Brayden is both the middle child and the only child, Tara said. “He’s my fiery little redhead.”
Bethany was born at 39 weeks. Doctors induced labor, Tara said, because there was bleeding on her daughter’s brain because of the mass.
“(Doctors) didn’t even know if she would be born breathing,” she said.
Bethany was breathing, though, and Ferriman held her daughter before she was transferred to Dayton Children’s Hospital from Miami Valley Hospital.
When Bethany was three days old, she went into surgery to try to remove the tumo. The surgery was projected to take between 12 and 18 hours, according to doctors. Nurses called the Ferrimans every two hours with updates.
At the six-hour mark of the surgery, a nurse called and told the parents that they were closing up.
“She didn’t give us any details,” she said. “We thought for sure she passed.”
The doctor told the Ferrimans he could not remove the mass, and that their daughter had to have almost all her blood replaced during the surgery.
“He said, ‘I was doing more to save her life than working on that tumor,’” Tara said. “He said he felt it was in her best interest for him to stop.”
During the surgery, doctors did a biopsy, and they learned the mass on Bethany’s brain was a malignant tumor, called immature teratoma.
“The tumor … contained hair and teeth,” Tara said. “I was shocked.”
Doctors moved Bethany to the NICU for four weeks, where Tara stayed with her daughter 24/7.
“I took a leave of absence from work,” she said. “I was not leaving her side.”
Every day Zachary would drive from Dayton to Lebanon for work, Tara’s parents took care of Brayden, who was 2 at the time.
Tara said her son was so protective of his sister, that he was always watching when nurses were changing tubes or checking her vitals.
“He loved her,” she said.
After being in the NICU for four weeks, the family moved to a room in the oncology department. Doctors drained excess fluid in Bethany’s brain and started her on five types of chemotherapy.
“They’re just trying it,” Tara said. “They have no idea what’s going to (work).”
The family was in the oncology department for two weeks, because they were released from the hospital for a week.
“It was the best thing ever,” Tara said. “It gave us hope. We really thought that … it was an awesome sign.”
The family was home for six days, and Tara said she enjoyed every second of it. Family members visited Bethany and the little girl had all the attention in the world.
After being at home for six days, though, Bethany’s heart rate was constantly high. Doctors told the Ferrimans that she might be dehydrated and to bring the little girl back in, so she did.
At the hospital, doctors said the mass doubled in size.
“The chemotherapy didn’t even touch it,” Tara said.
Doctors gave Bethany 24 hours to two days to live, so the family called everyone they knew.
But Bethany proved them wrong.
“The little stinker, she lived for six-and-a-half weeks,” Tara said.
While she was defying the doctor’s odds, Bethany was also acting like her great-grandfather, whom she shares a middle name with.
“He was stubborn as a mule, tough as can be,” Tara said. “She was as tough as he was.”
The family lived in a double room at Dayton Children’s Hospital for six weeks. During the six weeks, Bethany was never alone, whether nurses or family were in the room with the little girl.
“She had two nurses she wouldn’t let leave the room,” Tara said.
Whenever the nurses tried to leave the room, Bethany’s vitals would spike and monitors would go off, her mother said. The beeping of monitors would not stop, she said, until the nurses walked back over to Bethany and checked on her.
Nurses weren’t the only people wrapped around Bethany’s finger. Her grandfather, Tara’s father, was wrapped around her little finger as well. He would sit in a rocking chair and hold his granddaughter until they were both asleep.
“She loved her grandpa,” she said.
On Nov. 1, 2013, Bethany passed away in her mother’s arms.
“She squeezed my finger one last time,” Tara said.
Within an hour of Bethany’s passing, all the nurses came to say goodbye. Once family left, three nurses took care of Bethany while waiting for a family friend to pick the little girl up to take her to the funeral home.
Nurses told Tara that when the family friend picked up her daughter, she was wrapped in a blanket like any other child and then placed in a car seat to get back to Wilmington.
Bethany’s funeral was paid for by the funeral home, who also was in charge of Nicholas’ funeral in 2009.
“He said, ‘No family should have to go through this once, let alone twice,’” Tara said.
Nicholas and Bethany are buried with their great-grandparents, Zachary’s grandparents, in Washington Court House. Nicholas is at the foot of his great-grandmother’s grave while Bethany is at the foot of her great-grandfather’s grave. The two share a headstone.
“I feel like they’re both being protected,” Tara said.
The healing process for the Ferrimans has been ongoing for almost two years. When Tara returned to work in the pharmacy at Kroger, she said it was difficult to see little girls with their parents because of how much she missed her own little girl.
“We just learned how to process daily,” she said.
Even though Brayden was only 2 when he lost his little sister, he still remembers her.
“He still talks about her today,” she said.
Brayden will often carry around a music box Bethany had and even sleep with it, Tara said. Brayden also sleeps with a stuffed lamb that was Bethany’s, and one of her blankets.
Tara credits her son for staying strong in the past two years.
“If it wasn’t for him I’d be in a very, very dark place,” she said. “Brayden was my reason to get up every day after we lost Bethany.”
To remember his siblings, Brayden and his parents will write messages on helium balloons and release them in the air on the anniversaries, Ferriman said.
While Brayden’s other brother passed away before he was born, Ferriman said her son knows that he has a brother and a sister watching him from Heaven. Ferriman and Zachary tell Brayden about his angel siblings often.
“You don’t know how strong you are until you have to go through it,” she said.
Reach Dylanne Petros at 937-382-2574, ext. 2514, or on Twitter @DylannePetros.