It began with headaches when she was 7 years old. February break of 2005 to be more exact. The headaches had been persistent, and no matter what medication she was put on, the pain would remain. Moving was painful so she became bed-ridden. She was issued a CAT scan in Berlin, Vermont.
The results weren’t reassuring.
“It’s kinda shitty to hear your mom cry from the living room and contact the rest of your family to tell them your 7-year-old has a brain tumor,” said Caton Deuso, a junior at Castleton. “My dad was calling the rest of my family because my mom was in tears enough to where she couldn’t verbally speak about it.”
It blindsided the family.
There hadn’t been any neurological signs that would have implied a tumor as the cause.
Deuso needed to be rushed to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.
They had to call in family to watch her sister. The car ride, Deuso says, seemed particularly long that day, three times as long as she was used to. That was one of the few details about events that she vividly remembers.
“One of the themes of this story, is that I had almost no idea what was going on,” Deuso said. “I didn’t know half of what was happening because there were a lot of doctors calling my parents out of the room to talk.”
They arrived at Dartmouth, only to have the stress piled up even higher.
“We were expecting you hours ago,” was the line the receptionist told Deuso’s parents.
Their faces dropped and were filled with a mix of feelings like anger and fear.
“My wife could have carefully, seriously strangled the nurse,” Larry Deuso, Caton’s father, said with a laugh.
Luckily it still wasn’t a very long wait.
She was walked out of the waiting room after five to 10 minutes and was taken to a new room. Usually terrified of needles, the IV being put into her that day didn’t cause her the slightest concern.
“That night I just didn’t care, and it was no issue letting it be done, which was a real staple moment of my history,” she said with a chuckle.
She sat in the room for a long time. Doctors would come to give her meds. The pain still wouldn’t go away. The tumor was putting too much pressure on her brain. Being moved into intensive care helped. But she still knew that meant it something was very wrong.
“It was hard on me, because I wanted to do everything I could, to make them (her parents) happy, but I was debilitated,” she said.
She was held for a week of testing and waiting. They didn’t know if it was cancerous yet. But they knew where it was, the cerebellum of her brain. The part of her brain in charge of balance. She still can’t walk in a straight line to this day.
“If I get pulled over because I look drunk and I have to walk the line,” laughed Deuso, “I’m not going to do well even if I’m sober.”
The day finally arrived for the surgery. If she closes her eyes today, Deuso can still recall, vividly the details of the room and being transferred onto the table.
“I’m sitting here picturing it now,” she said.
She was asked if she wanted a parent to be with her before she fell asleep.
“I was seven, so hell yeah I did,” said Deuso.
She knew her mom wouldn’t be able to keep it together, so she took her dad. “It’s scary to look at your dad and be like, well, here I go for seven hours under the knife,” said Deuso. “I still don’t know what the chances of success were.”
“That’s what was tough for me. You never know. You may have had the last chance to speak to her ever,” Larry Deuso said.
The surgery took seven hours. Close to the most stressful seven hours of her parents’ lives.
“It was draining. Then you’re finally able to exhale,” Larry said. “It’s the only way I could describe it because all we had time to do was react before.”
It was a success, and the tumor was benign. Her family, at least for a brief moment, was able to relax. But there was a long process of recovery ahead.
“Walking was difficult – like walking was very difficult,” said Deuso. “Not just the balance, but also after that type of surgery it takes you r body time to readjust.”
She was forced to rely on a walker to help her for two to three weeks afterward.
“Nice tennis balls on the bottom, makes you feel like an old lady at age 7. Started young,” she laughed.
There are scars on her body now as well. One on the back of her neck, where the surgery took place, and one on her head where there is now a bald spot, from a tube that was stuck in her head. She struggles with balance to this day, but Deuso has remained pretty positive about her recovery efforts.
School was a whole new process too. Deuso believes she may have even come close to failing the second grade that year. However, the community not just in her class, but in the whole school really came together for her.
“One day my dad came in with three HUUUGE envelopes filled with get better envelopes,” said Deuso.
The event in total, rocked the Deuso family. Just talking about it today will bring Caton’s mother to tears. She could have very well died that day, but she prefers not to think about that.
“It didn’t happen, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore,” laughed Deuso.