By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, email@example.com
Mason Garvey was 7 years old when doctors told his parents he had cancer. But Dr. Jacquelyn Carter, his primary oncologist at Riley Hospital for Children, told Kevin and Heather Garvey something else. She said their little boy would lead them through the journey.
They thought she was flat-out wrong. As his parents, they told themselves, they would lead the way. Turns out, Dr. Carter was right. Mason was their north star through it all.
“Mason’s ability to face every step head-on and emerge from it seemingly stronger than when he started inspired everyone he met,” the Bargersville couple said.
Mason, a voracious reader who loved sports, music, silly knock-knock jokes and his little sister, Kinley, passed away June 25 at home, with his beloved family at his side, loving him hard and wondering how they will find their way through this life without the brilliance of his smile and the joy of his laughter.
“Mason was the bravest, strongest, toughest kid we ever met,” his dad said. “We told him countless times that we had no idea how he had gotten so tough, but we were so glad he did. He encouraged us to keep fighting and showed us that God only gives the toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.”
Mason viewed cancer as an inconvenience, his mom said. All the treatments, all the medicines, all the clinic visits … they were just things that got in the way of him doing what he really wanted to do. He got them over with so he could get back to doing what he loved most.
And that was usually some kind of sports. Mason loved basketball and football. He counted among his many friends Kenny Moore II and Trey Mock of the Indianapolis Colts and Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers. The three took a liking to #MightyMason and invited him to hang out at games.
Mason got the chance to do some amazing things during his two-year battle with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma – a malignant soft tissue tumor formed from embryonic skeletal muscle tissue. He shot baskets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, caught touchdown passes in Reliant Stadium (home of the Houston Texans), ran plays on the Indianapolis Colts practice field. On his 9th birthday, Mason even got to run out on the field in Lucas Oil Stadium with Moore before a game.
But Mason’s happiest times were spent goofing off with Moore and Mock (Colts mascot Blue’s alter ego). Even though their jobs as starting defensive back and team mascot, respectively, required the two men to be “in costume” on Sundays, Mason preferred spending time with each as a person, not their personas. He loved playing video games with them, shooting baskets in the driveway and playing games with them on his phone.
Mock, who spoke at Mason’s funeral last week, said the two met when Mason won a Colts contest. Mason greeted him with his signature head nod when the two were introduced, but it wasn’t long before they struck up a deep friendship. When Mock suited up as Blue to visit Mason during one of his chemo treatments at Riley, Mason was disappointed, Mock said.
“I wanted Trey,” Mock remembers Mason saying.
It was a revealing moment.
“Most people see me and wish they had Blue, but that wasn’t Mason,” Mock said through tears. “He just wanted to hang out with me. He made me feel special.”
The 9-year-old lived up to his nickname – #MightyMason, Mock said. While his friends and family thought they were taking care of him, “he was really taking care of us.”
“I rejoice in the fact that I got to know Mason and the Garvey family. I give thanks for all the moments I had with him.”
COLTS PLAYER MISSES HIS “BROTHER”
Likewise, in a Facebook post the day after Mason’s passing, Moore shared this message about his friend, his “brother”:
“Missing you already. The visits, the video games, the FaceTimes, the basketball games, the jokes and laughs, the snacks … the dancing, the pictures, the football games, the dinners, the gifts, the ‘I love yous,’ the hugs, the handshakes.
“We had the best times together, and I’m so blessed we became family, Mason. God took your pain away yesterday. … He took all of your sadness away so now every day you’re looking down, I know you are smiling.”
Mason and Moore had a connection from their very first meeting, Heather Garvey said. It was Nov. 30, 2018. Moore came to visit Mason after a treatment in Riley’s outpatient clinic.
Rather than chatting in the room, Mason and Moore met out in the waiting area, where they talked about the Colts, ran a couple football plays and danced.
“They were inseparable from that day on,” Heather said. “They would text each other, play Madden together, go through Mason’s treatments together, play basketball, dance, laugh, share ‘their’ handshake … they became brothers. They made each other better.”
Mason, who recently finished third grade at Pleasant Grove Elementary in Center Grove, was surrounded by love. His teachers, many of whom were at his funeral, loved him. His friends loved him, his family loved him, and his Riley care team loved him.
One of the relationships the Garveys treasured most for their son was the friendship he shared with Riley RN Elizabeth Thach.
“They truly loved each other,” the couple said. “Mason was not someone who trusted people upon first meeting them. It took time, effort and patience. Elizabeth gave all three of those things to Mason, and she gained his unwavering trust. Mason didn’t give his heart to just anyone, but Elizabeth had it and always will.”
A FIGHT TO THE END
In their desperate search for a treatment that could slow the growth of the tumors in his lungs and pelvis, the Garveys took their son to Seattle for CAR T cell therapy in May, but the cancer was relentless; the treatment failed. They returned to Indiana last month, meeting with his oncologist and the palliative care team.
At the time, Heather Garvey said for once, she and Kevin didn’t know what to do next.
“We have never missed a beat in moving to the ‘next thing,’ ” she said. “It is much different now. Four therapies have failed. With each failure, the disease becomes harder to treat, harder to contain, harder to outsmart.”
In the end, Mason showed the way. He was tired. His body could no longer tolerate the treatments. And so those closest to him spent his final hours holding him, loving him and telling him it was OK to go.
“Grandchildren fill a place in your heart that you never even realized was empty,” Mason’s grandmother Konnie Schlechte told the crowd assembled for Mason’s funeral.
That emptiness is profound now, but in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, she said, “There are no goodbyes for us, Mason. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.”
Through it all, Mason was a warrior, his parents said. So often, people say “someone lost their battle with cancer.” Mason did not lose, they said. Mason won.
“He stood toe to toe with a disease that tried to take so much away from him, and he simply would not let it,” Heather and Kevin said. “He fought hard and did it with an amazing smile on his face, fire in his beautiful blue eyes, and a strength that most humans simply do not possess.”
Photos submitted and by the Indianapolis Colts and Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mighty Mason fights cancer like a champ - This 8-year-old counts Victor Oladipo from the Indiana Pacers and Kenny Moore from the Indianapolis Colts among friends who’ve helped him during his year of cancer treatment.
Be a good egg and take the #crackcancer challenge - “We’re all cracking up,” said one young Riley cancer patient as he waited to smash an egg over the head of Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The goal is to raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer research.