SPENCER, Ind. — A local family from Spencer, Indiana is sharing their toughest struggles in hopes to shed light on childhood cancer.

Just days into Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, four-year-old Maverick Pendleton received a diagnosis his family feared.

“I think I have felt every emotion that exists in the past few days,” said Bari Soash, Maverick’s aunt. “We just found out on Friday that he had a brain tumor.”

Soash remembers the moment she learned of that news. She said she received a phone call from her twin sister, Maverick’s mom Becky.

“Leading up to that point – for almost three months – he’s been getting sick,” said Soash.

She said Maverick’s parents, Becky and Josh Pendleton, first took their youngest son to doctor where they were told it was likely a stomach virus or gastrointestinal issue. Then, in the last week, Maverick began to develop headaches before spiking a fever this past Friday.

Soash said doctors did a CT scan to look for fluid building in Maverick’s brain, and that is when the brain tumor was first found. Maverick was admitted to Riley Children’s Hospital that night, and has been there ever since.

“[The brain tumor] is very large. It’s pushing on his eye – behind his eyes. It’s mostly on the left side of his brain and some major arteries run through it,” said Soash. “They also, on the MRI, discovered that some of the cancer has likely spread down his spinal cord.”

On Thursday, Maverick underwent an eight-hour surgery for doctors to attempt to remove as much of the tumor as they possibly could. Soash said doctors confirmed the tumor was cancerous, but could not remove it entirely because Maverick was losing a lot of blood during surgery.

“I think it’s just a really good month to talk about a really tough issue,” said Soash.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, the average age of a child diagnosed with cancer is just eight years old.

“I know our parents have had a hard time with [the diagnosis],” said Soash. “They’re saying that this is the stuff that’s supposed to happen to us at our age and not their youngest grandchild.”

Experts say early diagnosis of childhood cancer is often difficult. One out of six children with cancer in America do not survive five years, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization.

“I think that this month is a good time for people to talk about it. Be aware of it,” said Soash. “It probably impacts someone that you know and you may not know it. Or it could impact someone that you know – and that was us!”

Soash said she hopes Maverick’s story urges other parents to listen to their children, and follow their gut instinct.

“You just really need to listen to them because most children don’t have any reason not to tell you the truth,” said Soash.

For now, Soash said Maverick will spend a few days in the ICU to recover and await the results of the biopsy to find out what type of cancer he has and to help determine a treatment plan. She said there will be some additional scans over the next couple of days and at some point they will be meeting with an oncologist. 

Maverick’s parents, Becky and Josh, are both U.S. Air Force veterans. Together they have five children. Soash said Maverick’s oldest half sister has cystic fibrosis, so the family is all too familiar with long days and nights at Riley Children’s Hospital.

To receive updates about Maverick’s story, or contribute a donation for medical costs, click here.