Family's grief fuels their fight against childhood cancer

  • St Mary's County,Calvert County
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Lusby, MD- Hunter Dean Scott was a typical sweet, caring and happy four-year-old boy. He was the first born for his parents Sandy and Eric. He was a big brother to Hayden. His smile could light up a room. But, sadly, one day that light started to dim.

In 2008, Hunter was experiencing severe headaches, along with nausea and vomiting. After numerous trips to the pediatrician he was diagnosed with illnesses such as strep throat and sinus infections--but he was not improving.

In July 2008, Hunter woke up crying in the middle of the night, complaining of a headache. “I had enough at that point,” Sandy Scott said. She packed a bag for Hunter, headed to the ER and refused to leave until doctors figured out what was making him so sick.

Nothing could have prepared Sandy for what she would learn a few hours later.

“I demanded a CT scan,” Sandy recalled. “When the doctor returned, he told me there was a large mass on Hunter’s brain and there was a helicopter transport in route to rush him to Children’s National Medical Center.”

The tumor was the size of an orange and causing extreme pressure on Hunter’s brain. Doctors had to immediately rush him into surgery to drain the fluid build-up. The surgeon was also able to remove 90 percent of the tumor. That’s when Hunter’s real fight began.

For six months Hunter endured chemotherapy and 30 cycles of radiation to his brain and spine—with an extra boost of radiation to his tumor site. He also underwent another surgery to remove the rest of the tumor.

Sandy remembered a time when Hunter’s concern went far beyond his cancer. “He was so sick from chemo and throwing up. I was crying and he asked me what was wrong. He said, ‘its ok, I’m just trying to get the yuckies out’. He was such a compassionate child.”

For nine amazing months, Hunter was in remission and his family celebrated the victory. But it was short-lived.

The tumor returned with a vengeance. Sandy and Eric tried several treatment plans and searched for countless experimental treatments. Hunter eventually underwent two more surgeries. His doctors scoured the country trying to figure out how to fight the stubborn tumor. With each following MRI, the tumor only continued to grow. It was not responding to treatment.

“He never asked why me, why do I have cancer?” Scott remembered. “When he was so sick and so weak, he always managed a smile.”

On Feb. 2, 2011, Hunter struggled to peel a wrapper from a cupcake. When Scott went to help, Hunter looked up at her and gave her a half-smile. She raced him back to Children’s National for more tests. That’s when the Scott family received devastating news—Hunter’s time was running out.

Doctor’s only gave him a few days—Hunter fought for another six months. Those were six months the Scott family cherished with their firstborn. Hunter was able to spend his final days in the comfort of his own home surrounded by his loving family.

Exactly six months later, on July 2, 2011, at the young age of seven, Hunter Dean Scott lost his fight with cancer.

Amid the Scott family’s grief, their desire to raise awareness for childhood cancer and the idea to help other families emerged.

In 2012, Sandy and her sister, Tabbetha Russell, joined forces to honor Hunter’s memory and to help other families who have children fighting cancer by establishing Hunter's Heroes, Inc.

“We decided to do something because we hear about cancer affecting children in this area all of the time,” Russell said.

“When Hunter was sick, the Southern Maryland community came through big time, whether through fundraisers and donations or even prepared dinners. It allowed me to stay home with Hunter during his final months. I would say thank you from the bottom of our heart,” Sandy said. “We wanted to keep Hunter’s memory alive and wanted to give back.”

Hunter’s Heroes has hosted a variety of fundraisers over the years, including poker runs and golf tournaments. Much of the money raised is used to benefit the oncology unit at Children’s National. “They give us a wish list of things they need and will fulfill those wishes,” Russell explained. “We don’t just donate toys and games, we try to provide individuals with what they need, like school supplies, coats and even laptops to do homework while in the hospital.”

Locally, Hunter’s Heroes has come through for area families--like the Turbush family. The foundation provided a new bedroom to their daughter, Sofie, when she was battling brain cancer. "Small things can make a big difference," Russell said.

“Hunter is my inspiration. If you know someone who needs help, let us know, that’s why we’re here,” Russell noted.

Sandy also has advice for parents who may find themselves in a similar situation. “First, always go with your gut. If you think something is wrong, fight for your child. You are their advocate. Second, stay off of the Internet. Don't do your own research.” Sandy also encourages families to lean on their support system. “Network with other families who are going through the same things. Finally, take one moment at a time and live in that moment.”

Hunter’s spirit is always with his family. “Our son Hayden was five when Hunter passed away. He jokes if the lights flicker, it’s just Hunter letting us know he’s there,” Sandy shared.

Hunter also has a baby brother, Jase, who is four years old and never met him. When I sat down with him, he proudly told me he was wearing Hunter's hoodie.

“Every year on Hunter’s birthday, we have a family dinner and send off balloons from a pier on Solomons Island. We’re always remembering him—he’s still with us,” said Sandy.

Hunter’s Heroes is joining the 1st annual Kite Festival, Fly4ACure, at the St. Mary’s County Fairground March 17. All proceeds raised will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Click here for more information and how you can donate.

Visit Fly4ACure on Facebook.

Contact Joy Shrum at

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