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On the December 7 episode of his daytime talk show, Nick Cannon announced that his five-month-old son, Zen, had died over the weekend due to a malignant brain tumor. A week later, Cannon is opening up about the emotionally harrowing experience as he and Zen’s mother, Alyssa Scott, mourn their loss. In a new interview with People, Cannon shared about the earliest signs that something was wrong, how hard it was to watch his child be in pain, and how he and Scott made the difficult decision to forgo further treatment that would’ve caused Zen additional suffering.
Cannon and Scott first noticed that their baby had unusual breathing patterns a few days after he was born in June. “It sounded like he had fluid in his lungs, like a sinus infection or something,” Cannon told People. “[The doctors] didn’t think it to be anything too concerning.” Several weeks later, the doctor recognized that Zen’s head was growing abnormally fast. In August, at two months old, Zen was officially diagnosed with a fast-growing type of brain cancer called a high-grade glioma. The tumor was causing a buildup of fluid in Zen’s skull and putting pressure on his brain—a condition called hydrocephalus—as well as contributing to his enlarged head and difficulty breathing.
Doctors immediately operated and placed a shunt in Zen’s skull to help drain off excess fluid. But when Zen’s tumor continued to grow after the surgery, Cannon and Scott were faced with difficult questions. “We started asking, ‘Is there a way to prevent this? If not, how long do we have?'” Cannon explained. “The conversations quickly turned to ‘How can we give him the best life for the time that he does have?’ It could be weeks, it could be months, it could be years.”
Treatment options for gliomas may include surgery, chemo, radiation therapy, and targeted drug therapy, according to the Mayo Clinic, with the best course depending on factors like the tumor’s size and location and the patient’s age and health. In Zen’s case, one option on the table was chemotherapy, which Cannon himself had previously undergone to treat lupus, an autoimmune condition. (Chemo can sometimes help regulate the overactive immune system attacking the body’s healthy tissues in lupus patients, the Mayo Clinic explains.) So he knew firsthand how hard it could be.
Ultimately, Cannon and Scott decided to forgo invasive treatments that would’ve required Zen to stay in the hospital and endure significant pain and discomfort. Instead, Zen’s parents wanted to focus on giving their baby the highest possible quality of life in the time he had left. “We could have had that existence where he would’ve had to live in the hospital, hooked up to machines, for the rest of the time,” Cannon explained. “From someone who’s had to deal with chemotherapy before, I know that pain. To see that happen to a 2-month-old, I didn’t want that. I didn’t want him to suffer.”