CARROLLWOOD — Christmas Eve, 2007. The Wilson family, like most others, looked forward to the most joyous day of the year.
There was one problem. Young Brandon Wilson had a bad headache. Over-the-counter remedies weren't helping much, so his parents took him to a walk-in clinic to get something stronger.
The next morning while he should have been opening presents and enjoying his family, 13-year-old Brandon underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. What the family thought were migraines were actually caused by an especially aggressive form of cancer.
Fast forward to Christmas 2008. Doctors told Brandon he was cancer-free. He could live the life of a typical teenager. He could go to school, play sports, do things with his church youth group. He just had to come back for checkups every three months.
But at the first checkup in March, doctors found the cancer was back. It was worse than ever. So bad they couldn't do much more for him. On June 27, 15-year-old Brandon Wilson died.
His mother, Monica Wilson, his father, Reginald, and his siblings (Brandon was the second of four children born seven years apart) needed a lot of strength to get through his relapse. They didn't have to look far to find it.
"I think we got it from Brandon," his mother said. "In fact, we took a lot of our strength from him. He never stopped smiling, never stopped being positive. There was never talk of 'This isn't going to work.' Even in these past few months, he never gave up. He knew he was going to get better."
He was homeschooled for the year after his diagnosis until six months ago, when doctors told him the cancer was gone. He was bright enough to know that he had a potentially fatal disease, but he remained diligent in his studies. He had a goal for the future, and he was determined to achieve it.
"He had a dream of becoming a dentist," his mother said. "He and his older brother Reggie were going to be dentists and practice side-by-side."
In January, Brandon Wilson stopped his homeschooling and returned to public school as a freshman at Gaither High School. He relished the life of a normal teenager and made the most of every moment, his mother said. He was an honor student who played saxophone in the school band and threw the discus on the track team. He was looking forward to rejoining the Hillsborough County United Destroyers, the soccer team he had played on for half his life. He stayed active in the Fast Lane, the youth group at Village Presbyterian Church.
Brandon had been housebound in recent weeks, and his parents had to move his bed downstairs because the cancer had spread and he could no longer walk. But he kept looking toward the future, thinking about getting back onto the soccer field and eventually going to dental school. At his side, every moment, as he lay in bed was his devoted dog Quincie, a Labrador retriever that his parents gave him when he came home from his first surgery a year and a half ago.
Once Brandon was gone, the Wilsons realized that his strength had inspired everyone who knew him, not just his family. The kids from his soccer team showed up and did major yard work at the Wilson's home. The family put that project on hold as Brandon's health got worse. Friends from school and church came by to help, too.
"He touched a lot of people," his mother said. "Even the director of his youth group said, 'Why did God take him from us? He was the one who held us together.' "
Besides his parents, Brandon is survived by his brothers Reggie and Alex, his sister Karina and his grandfather.