Her son’s nightmares and a Google search led to an important diagnosis
- Posted on Jul 25, 2019
My three-year-old son’s cries jolted me awake. I rushed to his room. Michael was sitting up in bed and crying.
“Bramble, Mommy,” he said through tears.
I pulled him to me and stroked his soft hair.
“It’s just a dream, Baby,” I told him. “Bramble isn’t real. He can’t hurt you.”
For weeks now, my son had been having the same recurring nightmare—about a bald man called Bramble. In the dreams, Bramble stood in our backyard, staring in Michael’s bedroom window. He never tried to harm Michael in the dreams, but my son was terrified. It had gotten to the point where he was afraid even to lie down in his bed. I hated seeing him like this.
My husband, Mike, thought Michael’s dreams were so strange that he began researching the word bramble. He checked to see if someone by that name used to live in our home or in the neighborhood, but he couldn’t find anything. He even walked to the cemetery at the end of our road, looking for a tombstone for someone named Bramble. Maybe Michael had noticed it somehow. Again, nothing.
Finally, Mike and I sat down and Googled the word. We found a definition for bramble—a prickly vine or shrub—but there was more. Beneath the definition, it said, SEE ALSO: CANCER DICTIONARY. The words weren’t clickable. We didn’t own a cancer dictionary. We had no way to get more information. But seeing the word cancer sent shivers down my spine. What did a bramble have to do with cancer? And why was our three-year-old having these disturbing dreams?
A few nights later, Michael again woke up screaming, and I was sure he’d had another nightmare. But this time when I got to his room, I found him clutching his right ear.
“It hurts, Mommy,” he said. “My ear hurts.”
We went to the doctor the next day, and Michael was diagnosed with a routine ear infection. But after a week on an antibiotic, he was still holding his ear and crying. Between Michael’s ear pain and the bad dreams, no one was sleeping much at our house.
When we returned to the doctor, I told him the antibiotic wasn’t working. He said he’d prescribe another one. But something told me this wasn’t a simple ear infection. And I couldn’t get that search result out of my mind. It was all just too odd. Bramble, the recurring dream, the Google search—they all pushed me to ask for more.
“I don’t want another antibiotic,” I told the doctor. “There has to be something else we can do.”
After I persisted, the doctor recommended removing Michael’s tonsils as the best treatment. I hoped that having the operation would end Michael’s ear pain and help him sleep better.
On the day of Michael’s surgery, Mike and I sat in the waiting room, nervous about our little boy’s procedure. When the doctor came out to talk with us afterward, I knew something was wrong; the expression on his face told me.
“I removed Michael’s left tonsil,” the doctor said, “but when I went to take out the right one, I found a tumor.” My stomach dropped.
Michael had rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that usually affects very young children. One of the most common symptoms is an earache. Luckily, the doctor had caught it in its early stages, but Michael still needed a year of chemotherapy and radiation. The treatments were brutal and painful to watch. That year was a blur.
After Michael completed his treatment, he was declared cancer-free. The day his scans came back clear was one of the best days of our lives. I couldn’t wait for us to return to a normal life. For Michael to get to be a kid again.
One day, I was sitting on the floor watching Michael play with his toys. I couldn’t help but smile. I was so grateful that he was healthy. Despite what he’d been through, he was such a happy little boy. He’d even begun sleeping soundly again. He’d had his last Bramble nightmare the night before his tonsillectomy. Things had been so hectic that I hadn’t even considered the timing.
I remembered my husband’s online search. Curious, I went to the computer and Googled the word. A prickly vine or shrub. Nowhere on the page did it say the word cancer. Nowhere.
I called Mike at work. He Googled bramble with the same results.
Why had those words appeared before but not now? Why had Michael dreamed about Bramble nearly every night for months, with the dreams suddenly stopping after his cancer was discovered?
Because someone knew we needed the warning.
Michael is a 20-year-old college sophomore today and completely healthy. I’m so grateful for the dreams and the Google search that played a role in finding his cancer early enough to save his life. As it turns out, Bramble may have seemed scary, but he had just the message we needed.
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