Jackson County

Fourth Coast child diagnosed with rare brain cancer DIPG. She’s 2.

A Pascagoula toddler is the latest child in South Mississippi to be diagnosed with the rare and terminal brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG.

The family of Brooklyn Willis, 2, started taking her to doctors in July after noticing that the little girl wasn’t her usual spunky self. Brooklyn was drooling at times and had stumbled at least once.

Her grandmother, Tarry Hall, said doctors at first thought she might be feeling bad because she was teething.

As days went by, Hall said, Brooklyn’s condition continued to deteriorate until her family was unable to wake her and rushed her to Singing River Hospital.

After some tests, Hall and Brooklyn’s parents, Paarish Mitchell and Brandon Willis, learned she was suffering from the cancer that’s so rare it strikes only 300 to 400 children a year nationwide.

“I know my grand baby and she was just not acting like she normally does,” Hall said Saturday. “She’s spunky. She’s independent. She likes to do everything on her own. I knew my grand baby and I knew something wasn’t right.”

Brooklyn Willis 2.JPG
Brooklyn Willis Courtesy Willis family

DIPG kills Coast children

Since 2010, three Ocean Springs children — Sophia Mohler, 8, Jaxon Schoenberger, 6, and Sophia Ann Myers, 7 — have died from DIPG. Brooklyn’s family and others question why so many children face the deadly diagnosis in heavily industrialized Jackson County.

The cancer forms in the pons at the brain stem’s base and spreads like sand, taking away a child’s ability to walk, talk, swallow and breathe.

Brooklyn is now in the care of doctors at the University of South Alabama Children’s Hospital, but her family is still trying to find out what steps need to be taken down the road to help Brooklyn beat the disease.

She is on a ventilator, off and on, to help her breathe. Doctors are trying to wean her off the machine as she undergoes radiation treatments to try and shrink the tumor.

Hall said Brooklyn is aware her family is with her and they’ve noticed since she arrived at the hospital that she is moving more.

To help the family with expenses, a benefit bank account has been set up at Singing River Federal Credit Union for donations.

Not giving up

Her grandmother said the family isn’t giving up hope on Brooklyn’s recovery.

“I’m hopeful and in my heart I know my baby is going to beat this thing,” Hall said. “I just want my baby to walk on out of here and I’m not going to stop saying that until God says no. Right now, God is saying yes because she is waking up everyday.”

Hall said she and the rest of the family are researching what to do next.

“I’m just trying to get a team of people to help me,” Hall said. “I want people to know this is happening to her and I want to know why it is happening here. Why is it happening so much?”

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Margaret Baker is an investigative reporter whose search for truth exposed corrupt sheriffs, a police chief and various jailers and led to the first prosecution of a federal hate crime for the murder of a transgendered person. She worked on the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina team. When she pursues a big story, she is relentless.