"I love you. You are the best. I really love you."
These are the words of 4-year-old James Hampton who was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
In order to support James and his family, Rocking Horse Child Care Center and Nursery School - James's day care - is hosting a bake sale Wednesday, June 27, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., during the Pine Country Fair held at the United Methodist Church of the Pines in Minocqua.
"I talked to the Church of the Pines and asked if we could join in on the Pine Country Fair, and they said, 'most definitely,'" Kathy Almekinder of Rocking Horse Child Care Center said. "In their Pine Country Fair they have the Country Cupboard, and the proceeds from the sale of baked goods from the Country Cupboard will go to James and his family."
This benefit will help defray some of the family's extensive medical and travel expenses.
"Rocking Horse's parents and the kids are really getting into it, too, with our cook. So they're all going to help out James," Almekinder said.
"We really appreciate all the help," Michelle Gurtner, James's mother, said.
James started to feel ill at the beginning of May on his first day of spring break. James, his brother, Devin, and his father, Gary Hampton, were almost to their vacation destination when the first tumor-related symptoms appeared.
"They got halfway there, and James started getting this fever and flu-like symptoms. Gary said that when he had thrown up, he [held his head in both hands] and screamed," Gurtner said.
James's flu-like symptoms continued on a regular basis, leaving his parents at a loss with what to do.
"We were in and out of hospitals. Doctors said he had Lyme disease, he had meningitis, he had diabetes tests - he had everything," Gurtner said. "The only thing doctors had in common was to have him come back in if his symptoms got worse or if he got a fever with it."
After about two months of visits to several doctors, James was diagnosed with a glioma tumor.
"Finally James came home throwing up again, and I'll never forget it. He was in the bathroom and couldn't stop puking. He was dry heaving, and how do you calm your kid down? I said 'This has got to stop. Gary, I have to take him to the emergency room and they are going to do something today,'" Gurtner said.
Gurtner and James spent about six hours at the hospital, during which James had a CT scan from which the tumor was discovered.
"I keep thanking God - if he wouldn't have come home that day throwing up, he would have died by the following Wednesday," Gurtner said.
Because the tumor caused fluid to build up in his brain, James needed immediate surgery to have a shunt inserted. The shunt, a very narrow tube inserted into his head, drained the fluid into his abdomen, relieving the pressure put on his brain.
"We were told that he has two years to live, maybe. It was a nightmare. Finally I told Gary that we can't live like this. We got referred to the Children's Hospital [in Milwaukee], and had to wait two weeks to get there without knowing anything," Gurtner said.
At the Children's Hospital, Gurtner and Gary were relieved to meet James's new doctor, Dr. Foy.
"We hadn't slept in like three months. We went on shifts to make sure he's still alive. But when Dr. Foy went to shake our hands, I could just breathe. We are at the right spot," Gurtner said.
Since James's tumor is so entwined with his brain, Foy said it would be impossible to surgically remove.
"Dr. Foy has been doing this for 40 years, and he's ranked number one in the nation. He said if he tries to remove it, James will die," Gurtner said.
James and his family have to travel twice a week to Milwaukee for check-ups. The last trip to the Children's Hospital was one that Gurtner will never forget.
"This last time Gary went down, and I told him to call if anything happens. Well, Gary called after James had a quick MRI and said that he had to have surgery tomorrow because his first shunt clogged, which 90 percent of them do. We couldn't have been that 10 percent that didn't clog," Gurtner said.
Since his diagnosis, James has only cried one time, which was brought on by a side-effect of the strong steroids he was taking, making him want to eat every three hours, Gurtner said.
"James ate us out of house and home. But we finally had everything we needed - James had the shunt put in, we were doing good, he was finally doing better and we were getting sleep. So he woke me up at 3 in the morning, and mind you he hasn't let me sleep without being next to him since the first day of spring break, and I told him to go back to bed. He started crying because he wanted a banana. That's the only time he started crying."
As a 7-year-old, James's older brother, Devin, is handling everything the best he can.
"James had just went through his shunt for the first time. I was in the bathroom, and I hear Devin telling James, and he was quiet, 'I love you, little buddy. And if I could take this away from you, I'd be the one sitting there.' Devin wanted to take away his pain because he could see James going through it," Gurtner said.
About three weeks ago, James and his family received some good news for the first time in a long time - a call from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"James wants to go to Disney World, and he's going around his birthday," Gurtner said.
On Aug. 25, James will turn 5 years old and get to experience the magic of Disney World.
"James is holding us together, and he's only 4, but we are so blessed to have him and Devin," Gurtner said.
For more information about the bake sale benefit, call Kathy at Rocking Horse Child Care Center, 715-356-5567.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at email@example.com