Tyler's 'super' friends
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 30, 2014 1:46 PM
Tyler Mendygral, 6, waits with excitement to ride in a train at the super hero-themed 5K held in his honor at the Rosewood Walmart Saturday morning.
In Tyler's world, super heroes exist. The most maniacal villain can be defeated with a vibranium shield, rage-fueled strength or web-shooters.
There is no such thing as devastation.
Cancer is just another word.
But the 6-year-old's parents outgrew their innocence a long time ago.
They know that the help they need won't come from a caped crusader sporting a utility belt or a woman flying an invisible plane.
The heroes they are relying on -- while extraordinary -- can only do so much.
So as Jordan and Justin Mendygral watched a 5-year-old Captain America and 3-year-old Incredible Hulk descend upon their Spider-Man sunglasses-wearing son Saturday morning, they, moments later, acknowledged the prognosis a team of doctors at Duke Medical Center confronted them with a few months ago.
Tyler is, quite simply, in a battle for his life -- one they only wish could be washed away with powers not yet realized in their world.
It started with unwavering nausea -- a little boy who would excuse himself from his kindergarten classroom to get sick in the bathroom.
"We took him to the doctor and they said it was probably anxiety or acid reflux," Jordan said. "He said, 'Just keep an eye on him.'"
But when, several months later, another symptom saw Tyler scream for relief, his mother told herself that something more severe was at play.
"He came home from school and said he had a bad headache," Jordan said, adding that she gave her son some pain medication and sent him to his neighbor's house to play. "Maybe about an hour-and-a-half later, he came home and started banging on the door. I opened up the door and he was screaming and crying -- saying that his head was hurting."
The next day, just after his mother got home from work, another headache overcame him.
And when the pain returned the following day after his nap, Jordan took action.
"After about 45 minutes, he woke up crying -- screaming, 'My head. My head.' I called (Justin) and said, 'I'm taking him to the ER. Something's wrong,'" she said.
She had no idea that a CT scan conducted at Wayne Memorial Hospital would reveal a mass beneath Tyler's skull -- that he would be airlifted to Durham and diagnosed with cancer.
She had no way of knowing that the surgery required to remove it would leave her 6-year-old unable to walk and talk -- that he would have to learn, all over again, how to function.
"It's every parent's worst nightmare," Justin said. "He had always been healthy. ... He had been fine -- better than fine. ... Then, all of a sudden, this."
By the time they arrived at Duke --Tyler, who had gotten there via a helicopter, had already been in the hospital for nearly an hour -- the parents were still not convinced that the mass was serious.
"But a doctor came in that night. He was part of the pediatric neurosurgery team, but he wasn't the actual surgeon. He came in and talked to us and showed us the (CT) scan and everything," Justin said. "That was the first time we actually saw it. He was showing it to us ... and until that point, we didn't know if it was cancer or not. Well, that was the first time we actually heard that word.
"That was another blow, you know? After you're already on the ground."
Two days later, their little boy would endure a six-hour surgery meant to remove the tumor.
And despite the fact that the procedure was a success, doctors said Tyler would require radiation and chemotherapy.
"You know, if there's any cells floating around in there, it's just gonna grow back," Justin said.
Not every unexpected event that has unfolded since April has brought sadness along with it.
Tyler's diagnosis was a blow to the Mendygrals, but something beautiful, Jordan and Justin said, has come out of their plight.
A few days after his son went into surgery, one of Justin's comrades in the 4th Fighter Wing Security Forces Squadron approached him with a hand extended -- in it, an envelope full of money to help offset the costs associated with traveling back and forth from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to Durham.
"That's the part that gets me," Justin said. "It's been really unbelievable."
The giving wasn't limited to the Goldsboro installation.
In fact, the Mendygrals just recently received an envelope sent from one of the war theaters members of the 4th SFS are currently deployed to.
And back in Wayne County, fundraising efforts have taken many forms -- including the super hero-themed 5K held Saturday at the Rosewood Walmart.
"It's hard to explain how amazing it really is. You hear about how bad the world is and how bad people are. You think about Sept. 11 and the stuff going on overseas right now and then you think, here, there are people who don't even know who you are and they rally -- they do all this for you," Justin said. "They restore your faith in humanity."
Tyler is still too young to understand.
"He's like, 'Mom. Why do they need to raise money? What is that for?'" Jordan said. "I just keep saying, 'It's for you. It's for you.'"
A Goldsboro police officer donning a black cape and mask is the first to finish the run.
Tyler cheers as he crosses the finish line.
But Dwayne Bevell makes it clear who the real winner is.
"Hey Tyler," he said. "Thanks for being so tough."
Wonder Woman, Bat Girl, Spider-Man and Captain America aren't too far behind.
And each makes sure to tell Tyler just why they took to the street.
Jordan is overwhelmed by their kindness.
But the mother still finds it hard to cope with her son's ignorance to all he has been through -- and what he will face when his chemotherapy begins next month.
"He doesn't know. He doesn't understand. That's the hardest thing," she said. "You have to be happy around him -- be as strong as you can. But in the back of my head, I look at him and say, 'Oh my God.'"
Justin still experiences dark hours, too.
But when, Saturday, he held his little boy in his arms and felt Tyler's hand run along his face, he allowed himself to live in that seemingly normal moment -- and avoid, if only for those few seconds, questioning just what the future might hold.
"I just don't want to lose him. He's our first-born child. The love you have for a child is unexplainable and amazing," Justin said. "To think you could lose him that young after one day, one terrible day, it's devastating. It's changed our lives.
"I just want him to get better."