Hilo 12-year-old battles cancer after discovery of tumor on his brain stem

  • Courtesy of CHERYL HICKEY-MOMOHARA Austin Momohara, 12, of Hilo is undergoing treatment for a tumor on his brain stem.

  • Courtesy of CHERYL HICKEY-MOMOHARA The Momohara family, from left, are father, Sy; children, Shawna, Cherelle, Austin and Jacob; and mom, Cheryl Cheryl Hickey-Momohara. Austin, 12, is undergoing treatment for a tumor on his brain stem.

Austin Momohara of Hilo is like many other 12-year-olds.

A seventh-grader at Kamehameha Schools Hawaii, he likes playing video games, diving and playing baseball.

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Cheryl Hickey-Momohara said her son is humble and always happy.

“He’s just a nice kid,” she said. “He’s my baby out of four, so I kind of spoil him.”

Unlike other kids his age, however, Austin was diagnosed with cancer last month after a mass was found on his brain stem.

It started in October when Austin began seeing double.

“My vision has been very good and I’ve never had any problems with my vision,” Austin said.

She initially told him to take a break from his electronics, but Hickey-Momohara said the double vision continued and Austin began complaining of headaches.

His primary care doctor suggested a visit to the eye doctor.

The eye doctor, after doing tests and scans, told Hickey-Momohara they needed to get to the emergency room immediately.

While at the ER, Hickey-Momohara said an MRI scan showed a mass sitting on his brain stem. Austin would need immediate surgery that couldn’t be done in Hilo.

Hickey-Momohara said they were flown to Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children in Honolulu and he received surgery the next day to relieve pressure in his head and to biopsy the tumor.

According to Hickey-Momohara, Austin’s symptoms began around Oct. 10 and the mass was found less than a week later on Oct.16. They arrived at Kapi‘olani Medical Center on Oct. 17 and Austin had surgery Oct. 18.

“When we were at the eye doctor, the eye doctor took me out of the room and spoke to me,” Hickey-Momohara said. “I was in shock but I tried to stay calm because I didn’t want to scare Austin.”

After the emergency room doctor saw the scans, Hickey-Momohara said the physician also took her out of the room and broke the news.

“I just wanted to cry right there, but I knew I couldn’t because I would have to go back into the room to see Austin,” she said. “I just held it together. I don’t know how. I just didn’t want to have him see one tear come out of my eyes.”

“… I was just speechless,” Austin said.

Austin’s tumor is a germinoma.

According to the University of California San Francisco Brain Tumor Center, germinomas are tumors that arise from germ cells and primarily occur in children and adolescents.

Hickey-Momohara said Austin returned home after his surgery, but a follow-up MRI in early November showed the tumor had doubled in size — to 4 centimeters — in just two weeks.

Austin had to return to Kapi‘olani and within days, he began chemotherapy.

He will undergo his second round of chemotherapy at the end of this month and the third round will begin right after Christmas. After a later fourth round of chemo, he’ll begin radiation treatments.

“I’m feeling pretty good now that I know what the chemo is going to feel like,” Austin said.

Before the first round of the treatment, Hickey-Momohara said Austin didn’t know what to expect, “so all his emotions came out.”

“He was angry, cried, didn’t want to do it any more,” she said. “Then after that, with all the medications helping him with the nausea and stuff, he started to see the light and he was feeling better. Now, when he does the other three rounds, he knows what to expect.”

“When I first started chemo, I just thought it was going to be a medicine,” Austin said. “I didn’t think I’d have any reaction. A couple days (later, I) started feeling what the medicine does to me.”

A GoFundMe account recently established by a cousin has netted nearly $46,000 in donations from friends, classmates and strangers.

The money will be used to cover medical expenses.

“I have no words for it,” Hickey-Momohara said. “I’m just thankful for all these people. Some of the names, I don’t even know who they are.”

The GoFundMe page can be found online at bit.ly/GoFundAustin.

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Austin lives in Hilo with his family, which also includes dad Sy Momohara and siblings Cherelle, Jacob and Shawna.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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