Voices of the NIH Community

“Everybody wants to be optimistic”

Kirk and Danielle Leach remember their son Mason, who died of brain cancer at age 5. They talk about his treatment, his special bond with his older brother, Mateo, and about his last days. 


Danielle Leach: Mason was a very active, funny 5-year-old.  He loved art and soccer and was stubborn as an ox and he loved his brother.  And the best way to describe him is a force of nature.

Kirk Leach: He had a short but very interesting life.  He lived in four different countries, spoke two languages fluently and parts of another.  And he met the First Lady of the United States and he met the Queen of England in his five years on Earth.

Danielle Leach: Kirk, tell me something that you remember about his treatment experience, like something that sticks out in your mind?

Kirk Leach: One is how active he was during the treatment, during the very strong chemo that was in his body when he was at Children’s Hospital, when he would be riding up and down the hallways on the Big Wheel and we’d be running along with the IV pole.  Him playing soccer with his brother, in the room and in the hallway.  He scored a goal in a soccer game two weeks before he passed away.  He wouldn’t let anything stop him.

Danielle Leach: His sheer determination blanketed a lot of his pain and it blanketed a lot of his suffering in a way that those who experience that all the time could have told us a little bit more about it.  And I think…that’s I think my biggest regret is that we didn’t have those conversations right from the beginning.

Kirk Leach: It’s a hard conversation to have with people because everybody wants to be optimistic until the very end.  But I remember distinctly our older son was playing soccer and Mason was there, but he was probably about 50 feet away and I was talking to one of the moms on the team and, oh, she said, “Well, aww, well, how is he doing?”  And I said, “Well, you know, he’s dying.”

Danielle Leach: He kept control, just like his personality was right to the end.  He woke up that morning and said he was done and eight hours later he was unconscious.

Kirk Leach: Right.

Danielle Leach: And 18 hours later from there he was gone.  I still remember the hospice woman coming in to us and saying, “You know, it’s gonna be soon, it’s gonna be soon.”  And we called Mateo and said, you know, “Do you want to come home?”

Kirk Leach: Mateo was at a soccer game.

Danielle Leach: And he said, “No, I’m okay,” and Mason waited for him to die.  Mateo walked in the room and he told him the score of the game and Mason was gone about five minutes later.

On my worst days, I just think of that little boy getting up and running around when he felt miserable and then I say, you know what, we all need to be a little bit like Mason.

This page last reviewed on February 27, 2023