A gruelling six months
Six months ago, Alec Ferullo was looking forward to graduation and joining the Navy.
Now, his father, Ralph, isn't sure his son will live another month.
Alec, 18, a 2012 graduate of Northampton Area High School, was diagnosed in July with gliomatosis cerebri, a fatal form of brain cancer that has left him bedridden and blind. He can't walk and is often confused.
"He just kinda sits and stares a lot," said Ralph. "I've been reading some books about heaven to him."
Alec was having seizures and was too ill to speak to The Press last week.
Ralph said Alec's symptoms began in April.
"He came to me and he said, 'Something's the matter with my eyes,'" Ralph said. "I thought he needed glasses."
A couple weeks later, Alec told his father he was having headaches.
A visit to the eye doctor revealed normal vision. However, because of the headaches, a CT scan was recommended. Alec had the scan done April 12.
"They called us that night and said, 'Something doesn't look right. I want you to have an MRI,'" Ralph recalled.
The radiologist told the Ferullos Alec needed to see a neurologist.
By this time, Alec was experiencing double vision and arm numbness. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Ralph said.
"We knew the Navy was out. They're not going to take you with MS," Ralph said.
After being diagnosed with MS, Alec remained optimistic. He went to parties and went swimming.
"With the MS, he kinda was blowing it off like a kid would do," said Kate, Alec's stepmom.
Except for some headaches and numbness, Alec was fine during graduation. He walked with his classmates and went to parties with his friends afterward.
"You could never tell," Ralph said. "[He] was just like any free spirited kid."
After graduation, Alec's health went downhill fast. He started experiencing seizures and right sided weakness.
"He just kept getting worse and worse and worse and we weren't sure it was MS," Ralph said.
Ralph took Alec to Presbyterian Hospital in New York to see a specialist in multiple sclerosis. At that time, Alec could walk, but only with assistance.
The specialist looked at the results of tests Alec had earlier.
"She said within five minutes, 'This isn't MS. He needs to have a brain biopsy,'" Ralph said.
The specialist told the Ferullos she believed Alec had gliomatosis cerebri. A brain biopsy July 18 at Lehigh Valley Hospital confirmed this.
"When I found out it was MS, I was devastated," Ralph said. "Then when I found out it was the cancer I was wishing it was multiple sclerosis. I felt like someone hit me in the face with a sledgehammer."
When Alec was diagnosed with MS, he still felt "normal," at least at times, Ralph said. Once he learned he had cancer, Alec became scared and upset, occasionally even angry.
"[He had] "a ton of questions about death and dying that are so hard to answer," Ralph said.
Kate said he once mentioned to her that he felt "slower."
"You'd tell him something five or six times and he either didn't get it or would just forget," Ralph said.
They tried chemotherapy and radiation treatments for about three weeks but they made Alec sicker so they stopped.
The Ferullos researched the diagnosis, learning the average life expectancy is about a year. But they don't know if the year begins with the onset of symptoms, the diagnosis or something else.
"There's no cure, a few studies out there but they never gave us hope that he was going to live," Ralph said.
Ralph said he and Alec spent a lot of time talking. Now Alec spends more time napping.
When he's awake, sometimes he is confused, Ralph said. For example, Alec will often ask repeatedly if they are going for radiation or chemotherapy. Ralph must explain over and over that they are not. Sometimes this will go on for an hour.
"It's more heartbreaking than frustrating," Ralph said.
"I read to him, I talk to him," Ralph said. "I'll put in movies that he knows."
Ralph chooses movies Alec knows well because he can't see to watch them.
Alec's friends usually come visit in the afternoons, after school.
Sometimes Alec recognizes them, sometimes he doesn't, said Ralph.
Ralph said he is glad Alec has been spared physical pain.
His son also still enjoys eating.
"That's the only thing he does normally now. He's on all these steroids and he eats like a horse," Ralph said.
A friend brings Alec a taco every day, Ralph said.
"When he gets good food, he enjoys it."