Kelli Tracy and her son, Cameron, of Marietta are ready to shave their heads in memory of her son, Matthew, who died of a brain tumor in 2009.
Kelli Tracy wears a heart-shaped pendent around her neck with a picture of her son, Matthew.
Momentos of her son, Cameron, surrounded by angels, are everywhere inside Kelli Tracy's home. Cameron died in 2009 of a brain tumor.
After Kelli Tracy’s 13-year-old son, Matthew, passed away on Mother’s Day in 2009 following a nine-year battle with a brain tumor, she sought a way to bring more awareness to pediatric cancer.
“I just happened to have a Facebook friend whose son had the same type of cancer my son had and she signed up to shave her head with 46 Mommas,” Tracy said.
The volunteer organization, created in 2010, promotes pediatric cancer awareness and research.
“It is a group of women who have lost children to cancer or who have children who survived cancer or are fighting cancer,” Tracy said. “The 46 Mommas name is because on average in the United States on a weekday, 46 children are diagnosed with cancer.”
Every year, 46 Mommas hosts a Shave for the Brave event that aims to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity that funds pediatric cancer research. Each Shave for the Brave volunteer receives donations from sponsors, which goes toward the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
Shaving her head for cancer research
Tracy shaved her head for the first time with a charity in Atlanta and raised $5,000 for pediatric cancer research. After she learned about 46 Mommas from a friend, she decided to shave her head as part of Shave for the Brave in 2011 in Washington, D.C., where she also advocated for the Creating Hope Act of 2011 at the U.S. Capitol.
“I was really excited about the group and what they were doing,” Tracy said. “Their goal was to raise $1 million for St. Baldrick’s, and this year we hit $1.1 million so it’s kind of neat to be a part of that and to honor the memory of my son.”
This year, Tracy and her 10-year-old son, Cameron, will travel to San Antonio, Texas, with 46 Mommas to shave their heads once again to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research.
“I want to shave my head because my brother passed away from cancer,” Cameron said.
Cameron, who was just 6 years old when his brother died, said he remembered the day of Matthew’s passing.
“We knew it was going to be soon, so Cameron stayed with his aunt and uncle and cousins,” Tracy remembered.
‘A God moment’
Matthew was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2000, when he was four. He visited a doctor for severe headaches and what his mother thought was a severe sinus infection.
“His doctor did something that they don’t typically do right off the bat,” Tracy recalled. “She said ‘Let’s send him in for a CT scan and get a good look at those sinuses and see what’s going on so we know exactly what we need to do to treat it.’ That’s not typical; I think it was supposed to be that way and I actually call that a God moment.”
After the CT scan, Matthew was diagnosed with a sinus infection. Then, after the technician observed the scan more carefully, Matthew’s doctor confronted Tracy about a brain tumor.
Matthew’s parents immediately took him to a neurologist who referred him to Children’s at Scottish Rite in Atlanta, where he received an MRI and was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Two weeks after his initial diagnosis, Matthew underwent his first of 11 brain surgeries over the course of nine years, three of which occurred at a hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
“We had absolutely fabulous doctors and specialists and I can’t speak highly enough of them,” Tracy said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of ego involved in pediatric neurosurgery because his doctor said ‘I want you to have the best and I think the best is for you to go to Memphis.’ I have a lot of respect for Matthew’s neurosurgeon in Atlanta.”
Matthew, an artist and music lover, was able to attend school or continue his education with the help of a homeschool tutor until the last year of his life, when his benign tumor became malignant. Tracy said the tumor likely changed as a result of the radiation therapy he received to shrink the tumor.
“In the world of brain tumors, a benign tumor is not a better tumor than a malignant tumor because tumors in the brain are unpredictable,” Tracy said.
Matthew’s family learned his tumor was terminal in 2009, and he passed away with his family by his side on May 10, 2009.
Honoring Matthew at McCleskey Middle School
In 2010, Matthew’s family and faculty at McCleskey Middle School in Marietta, where Matthew attended, established an award in Matthew’s honor, which is given to students who have exhibited great determination or courage in the face of a challenge. Faculty members of the middle school nominate students for the award before Matthew’s family, guidance counselors and the principal at the school select annual recipients.
“I had a parent, whose younger child has some challenges, thank me the first year we gave this award and she said ‘I love that this award is not based on how smart you are or how athletic you are,’” Tracy said.
Although Tracy still mourns the loss of her son, she said she finds great joy in bringing awareness to pediatric cancer research and honoring Matthew’s memory.
“It doesn’t get any easier over time, it just gets different,” Tracy said. “Everyone grieves differently, and for me, I heal by sharing; by putting him out there and telling his story, as hard as it may be.”
Tracy asked those who are curious about 46 Mommas to visit their website, 46mommas.com, for more information.