LAKE NORMAN, NC (WBTV) - This story should be shared. It came to me in the form of an email, from a brave mom in Lake Norman.
She was writing about her beautiful 2-year-old, Easton Mills, who died last May. It was sudden and heartbreaking, and her mom shared lively details about her daughter, descriptions no mother would want to write in past tense.
"I want to turn her death into something positive," Liz Mills said at the end. "The first anniversary is fast approaching and I want something good to come from this situation."
"This situation" is code for what happened to Easton, seemingly out of nowhere.
Liz is a self-proclaimed gym rat who always took her happy daughter with her to the Lake Norman YMCA?.
One day, May 3, 2017, toddler Easton told her mom she didn't feel well and didn't want to go.
Liz said Easton never complained, so Liz canceled her workout and the little girl's swim lesson and stayed at home.
Together they played and cleaned the house. Easton didn't say anything else about not feeling well.
From all accounts, Liz says, "everything seemed normal."
But in the middle of the night that evening, Easton cried out for her mom. Liz brought her into the room with her and her husband, Brandon.
By the next morning Easton was totally lethargic. She was walking only to vomit, then immediately passing out again.
Liz got her to the pediatrician, who sent her off to Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital? in Concord.
While under evaluation there, her tests, scans and blood work came back fine, yet she wouldn't wake up.
At one point, Liz pulled doctors and nurses into the room to ask if it could be neurological.
"My mommy alarms were going off like fireworks," Liz said. "They assured me it couldn't be that."
That night, as many parents do, Brandon and Liz divided and conquered. Each parent took one child.
Their older son, 7-year-old Grant, usually stayed more calm when with his mom, so Liz went home with him and Brandon stayed at the hospital with Easton.
"I hated leaving her," Liz said. "But this decision seemed to make sense."
Unfortunately, Liz would never see Easton alive again.
"My baby girl stopped breathing on her own around 11:30pm that night," Liz wrote.
"My husband called me in a panic. I called my best friend who came to stay with Grant. Brandon said they'd intubated Easton and were transferring her down to Levine Children's Hospital? to figure out what was going on. I beat the ambulance to Levine's and waited in agony for them to arrive."
When Easton got there, Liz said she took one look and knew she was gone.
"I was in shock," she said. "Disbelief. Broken. I had a panic attack and they sent me to the ER."
Liz said they later found out Easton had the largest, fastest progressing ATRT tumor Levine's had ever seen in a 2-year-old.
It had crushed her brain stem within a 24-hour period. She was brain dead, and her parents had to say goodbye.
"Some days I still feel like I'm in shock," Liz said. "We have to keep moving forward for her brother, who was her favorite person on this planet, but it's the worst pain for a parent to feel. For this year mark, we want to try to turn the pain into strength."
Which is why Brandon and Liz set up the first Easton Mills Memorial Challenge, hosted by the Lake Norman YMCA. It'll be May 5th, 2018, exactly one year from day Easton died.
Check-in starts at 8 a.m. The workout is 9 a.m. to noon with an after-reception held at the D9 Brewing Company? in Cornelius from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Registration is $40 and there's a raffle, with all proceeds going to "Send a Kid to Camp" Scholarship fund at the Lake Norman YMCA. (Sends underprivileged/homeless children to camps, keeping them off streets.)
Here's more information.
We hear a lot of things through #MollysKids, but a sudden tumor that takes your toddler in two days is a first.
I've now read Liz's email a few times, unable to shake how fast things can happen.
Thank you, Liz, for writing. Hopefully sharing the story can help make May 5 something special.
**Editor's note: This is about one of #MollysKids, children WBTV Anchor Molly Grantham follows closely on her Facebook page. It was first published there, which is why it's written in a personal way. For years Molly has followed hundreds of kids with uphill medical battles. Find this story and updates on all #MollysKids here.**