Just a month ago, Braylynn Lawhon of Gulf Breeze, Florida, was a seemingly healthy little girl, excitedly preparing to celebrate her 5th birthday. Now, doctors say she could pass away at any moment.
In December, Braylynn, now 5, was diagnosed with a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) tumor, a deadly form of brain cancer. DIPGs are highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain tumors found at the base of the brain, according to Boston Children’s Hospital. Approximately 300 children are diagnosed with DIPGs each year, usually between the ages of 5 and 9.
With Braylynn now in hospice care at a hospital in Pensacola, her grandfather, 49-year-old Sean Peterson, who suffers from bone marrow cancer and ALS, visited his ailing granddaughter and was immediately overcome with grief.
“They wheeled him in to see Braylynn. He can no longer speak, he can’t move his hands and he has a feeding tube,” Beth Peterson-Hickman, Braylynn’s grandmother and Peterson’s ex-wife, tells PEOPLE. “When he saw her, he was crying and it was heart-wrenching. I broke down and I had to turn around.”
A photo of the emotional moment showed Braylynn in a hospital bed unresponsive as Peterson sat crying in a chair next to her bed. Peterson-Hickman says Peterson’s wife took him out of the room and when he returned later, “he just started falling apart.”
“He does not deserve this. He, like me, we’re supposed to watch our grandkids grow up and make us great-grandparents,” Peterson-Hickman says.
Peterson was diagnosed with ALS in 2016 and learned he had cancer shortly after. Peterson-Hickman says her heart breaks for her daughter, Ally Parker. “Ally is gonna lose her daughter and her dad probably in a few months,” she tells PEOPLE.
The grieving grandmother says Braylynn was in high spirits in the days after her diagnosis, but within the last month, her health has declined rapidly.
“We’re heartbroken, mad, angry,” she says through tears. “I begged God to give that baby’s tumor to me. I’ve had 50 years here — she’s barely had five. I’d gladly take that baby’s tumor.”
Peterson-Hickman says Parker has started planning a princess-themed funeral for Braylynn.