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Faith and Memphis’ embrace anchor teen battling cancer away from home


Every morning, 13-year-old TJ Malveaus makes his way down the hallway at Ronald McDonald House® of Memphis, stopping to greet each staff member along the way.

by Brittany Fitzpatrick
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Every morning, 13-year-old TJ Malveaus makes his way down the hallway at Ronald McDonald House® of Memphis, stopping to greet each staff member along the way.

 Vijaya Malveaus

He politely refers to each staff person as Mr. or Miss, smiling and waving as his black-rimmed glasses gleam in the fluorescent light. After observing him, one gets the sense that TJ has never met a stranger.

“He met most of the staff here before I did,” said his mom, Vijaya.

One would never know from his cheerful disposition that this 13 year old who loves chocolate ice cream is battling a rare form of cancer.

According to Vijaya, TJ started complaining of headaches at the age of 5.

“We kept taking him back and forth to the doctor and they never found anything,” explained Vijaya. It wasn’t until Feb. 8, 2012 that an MRI revealed that TJ’s headaches were the result of a brain tumor that had also spread to his spine.

 TJ Malveaus, a 13 year old staying in Memphis at the Ronald McDonald House while he is treated for cancer, would rather read a book than play video games, said his mother, Vijaya Malveaus. (Courtesy photo)

“The tumor had been there so long that it had shifted the bone in his head….That explained a lot of the things that had been going on with him over the years,” Vijaya said. TJ was diagnosed with Intracranial Girmanoma, a form of cancer that affects 0.7 per million children, according to the Journal of Neuro-Oncology.

TJ’s cancer was so rare that no local hospital had the expertise to provide his treatment. On Feb. 22, they were referred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and headed to Memphis from their hometown of Ruston, La., that same day.

“We really didn’t know what we were coming into. They didn’t say anything about placement or where we would be staying, they just said you need to pack a bag for a week or two, at the most, and get on the highway. So that’s what we did. We had no idea what we were going to do, but we arrived and were given a place to stay and we’ve been very comfortable,” said Vijaya.

“When we got to Ronald McDonald House, we expected to have a room and that was it. We didn’t know about all of the other rooms – the kitchen, the meditation room, the teen room, the exercise room. We’re not stressed or worried about anything because it’s just like home,” she said.

Because of his cancer type, TJ’s tumor had to be removed right away. His surgery was scheduled for February 27.

“What do you like?” the nurses asked before putting him to sleep.

“Football,” TJ replied.

“What do you want to dream about?” they asked. “Most kids want to dream about driving or cars…”

“I just pray that God blesses you all to do your job and make me well,” he replied.

“I wasn’t scared when the doctors told me I had cancer,” he said.

“He’s very grounded with his faith and that keeps me going,” said his mother.

Although TJ says he misses his friends, teachers, and schoolmates, the math lover says he’s also made friends at Ronald McDonald House.

The self-described “mama’s boy” said that he has also enjoyed spending time in Memphis with his mom. “We go downtown and ride in the horse carriages. We go to the zoo and the River Walk. TJ loves the water,” said Vijaya.

“Here, I feel very comfortable and appreciative,” TJ said. “I’ve made a lot of friends. They’ll smile at me sometimes and ask me to chase them around. Sometimes I do, but most of the time I just walk around, watch TV, or read a book.”

Vijaya says her son would rather read a book than play video games.

“I like to read about football, and I like to read the Bible,” said TJ.

His favorite bible verse is Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

“When I leave here, I’m going to have a long story to tell,” said TJ.

Currently reading a book about brain tumors, TJ says his story has inspired him to become a doctor so that he can help other kids.

“He’s happy,” Vijaya said. “It’s a battle, but he says he’s gonna win it. And I believe him.”

TJ looked back at her, smiling with his signature gleam.


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