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Parents watch son slip away after battling cancer

Doctors found a tumor in Jeremy Durivou when he was 18 months old. Last summer, another tumor appeared, this time in the 13-year-old's brain.

By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

SPRING HILL -- She sat beside his bed, watching his chest rise and fall.

"I'm sorry," Caroline Durivou told her youngest son, 13-year-old Jeremy.

He lay quietly, his face pale, his body weak.

She didn't know what to do, so she kept talking, hoping he could hear.

"You're out of pain, aren't you?" she said. "I hope you don't hurt, Jeremy."

It was getting late.

Too late for medicine, too late for miracles.

Slowly, her son was drifting away.

He was her youngest, her baby.

Mrs. Durivou had always been protective of Jeremy. She had almost lost him once before.

When he was 18 months old, Jeremy developed a tumor in his adrenal gland. Doctors prescribed a cocktail of drugs that left him pallid and frail. Nevertheless, the drugs appeared to work, and after nine months, the tumor was gone. He's okay, doctors said.

Mrs. Durivou and her husband, John, didn't believe them. Every time Jeremy got sick, they worried. Mrs. Durivou said she was nervous each year when she took Jeremy to the hospital for an annual checkup to see whether the cancer had returned.

Just five years, doctors told her. If he makes it that long, you can feel safe, they said.

Jeremy made it. His annual checkups slowed to every two years, and the Durivous believed he had beaten the cancer. For a while, a cold was a cold, and nothing more.

Jeremy grew strong. He loved reading, going to school and watching professional wrestling. He liked to eat -- pizza with black olives and Little Debbies.

He loved to travel.

"My navigator," Mr. Durivou called him.

They took trips together, heading north to New York to visit relatives. Jeremy would research the route and advise his father about the best exits, the good hotels.

"He'd always tell me what was up ahead," Mr. Durivou said.

For a time, the future looked fine.

Until one morning last summer when Jeremy got a headache. Mrs. Durivou gave him aspirin, but his head throbbed. She thought it might be sinuses and gave him medication.

The headaches continued. One afternoon, Jeremy vomited.

Mrs. Durivou was scared as she drove him to Spring Hill Regional Hospital. Doctors sent him for tests at Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville.

Jeremy stayed in the waiting room as his parents disappeared into a doctor's office.

The doctor spoke plainly. Jeremy had brain cancer. He had a 50 percent chance of living for five years.

"What's going on here?" Mr. Durivou recalled thinking. "He was pronounced cancer-free. Give me a break. What's going on?"

Mrs. Durivou kept thinking: "Jeremy won't be here when he's 18."

On the ride home, the Durivous told Jeremy, 13, that his cancer had returned. They explained the fight ahead -- the radiation, the hair loss, the pills.

Jeremy didn't say much as he sat in the back seat.

The Durivous did not tell Jeremy about his chances.

"We were waiting for a miracle," Mrs. Durivou said. "We didn't want him to give up hope."

Jeremy endured weeks of radiation. After the treatments, he returned to his doctor, hoping the tumor was gone. It wasn't.

He did not return for eighth grade at Powell Middle School in the fall.

Doctors prescribed drugs through October, November and December. Time passed, and Jeremy didn't get better.

Mrs. Durivou tried to be strong. She would smile as she opened her son's door to offer him lunch. But when she placed her eyes on him sometimes, her body ached. She willed herself to be strong, and wept alone.

On Jan. 2, Jeremy complained of a headache and vomited four times. Mrs. Durivou took him back to Shands. He had a seizure.

Doctors said there was nothing more to do. Take him home, they said, and make him comfortable. He has two months, they predicted.

Mrs. Durivou called in hospice workers. They arrived with a bed, a table, a wheelchair and a commode.

For the first time, Jeremy seemed angry about his sickness. He had lost the use of his left side and could not walk by himself. When he wanted to go outdoors, he was lifted into a wheelchair.

"Why do I have to be an invalid?" he would ask angrily.

He tried to be strong. On the evening of Jan. 14, he sat up in his bed because he wanted to watch wrestling with his father. They shared a bowl of popcorn until Jeremy fell asleep.

He never woke.

Jeremy slipped into a coma the next day.

Days passed. Once, his lids fluttered and he looked at his parents. He returned to sleep.

On a recent night, Mr. Durivou was leaving to pick up Chinese food.

"I wouldn't do that," a nurse said. "It's getting near."

The Durivous sat beside their son.

"I did all I could," Mrs. Durivou told Jeremy. "I'm sorry I couldn't do any more."

His chest went still.

The family gathered at a cemetery on Wednesday to say goodbye.

Mr. Durivou sat beside his son's coffin.

"My navigator," he thought.

He remembered their plans to visit Vegas.

That was almost the worst part, sitting there under the canopy, looking at the coffin.

He still tries to reassure himself. "He's in a far better place than he'd ever be here," Mr. Durivou says.

He keeps telling himself: "It's over now."

-- Jamie Jones can be reached at 754-6114. Send e-mail to

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