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June 20, 2018 02:52 PM

Nichole and Colin Brooks were devastated earlier this month when they learned that their 2-year-old son, Wyatt, has acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The couple had just returned from the beach with their three children when they noticed a strange rash and bruises on Wyatt’s body. They took their son to the doctor and a blood test determined what was wrong with the toddler.

“I was in total disbelief,” Nichole, 40, tells PEOPLE of the moment she learned of the diagnosis. “There aren’t words to describe the emotions. I believed there had to be a mix up in the lab. I asked the doctors if they were sure he had cancer every day for the first four days.”

She adds: “My heart shattered and I couldn’t breathe. I had no idea how we would get through this and I was terrified for what he would have to endure to beat this.”

Courtesy Nichole Brooks

Nichole and Colin adopted Wyatt at birth, knowing before he was born that he had Down syndrome and heart defects. The couple also shares two daughters, Raegan, 17, and 16-year-old Sophia. And Nichole says Wyatt has been the perfect addition to the family.

“We wouldn’t change a thing about him,” she tells PEOPLE. “He is incredible.”

Wyatt quickly began treatment, and Nichole says she dreaded what the powerful chemotherapy would do to her little boy. So, she and Colin, 42, decided that they would have Wyatt’s head shaved before the chemo resulted in hair loss.

“Hair loss for many parents is so heartbreaking. It is a very physical reminder that a child is sick. For us, losing his hair seemed like one of the very few things we can control. Instead of focusing on the loss and sadness … we decided we would take charge,” Nichole says.

“We would decide when and how his head became bald. We embraced it and baldness became an act of courage and bravery. Cancer has already taken so much from him. We refused to let it take his hair and bring sadness into our world.”

Nichole (left) and Wyatt Brooks
Courtesy Nichole Brooks

Nichole arranged for a nurse to cut Wyatt’s hair in his hospital room on June 13. Photos showed the toddler sitting on his mother’s lap as the nurse shaved his head, he then posed for pictures in his parents’ arms.

Nichole says Wyatt, who has Down syndrome and uses American Sign Language (ASL) primarily to communicate, immediately loved his new ‘do.

“He looked up at me and smiled once the clippers were turned off,” his mother says. “I took him to the mirror and he gave the biggest smile then signed ‘beautiful.’  He smiles and rubs his head every night when he’s sleepy.”

Courtesy Nichole Brooks

It’s been nearly three weeks since Wyatt’s diagnosis, and Nichole says it’s hard to see her son in poor health.

“It’s been the single hardest thing we’ve ever faced,” she tells PEOPLE. “We are taking it one day at a time. We are only beginning and this is going to be a long journey, but we are filled with hope.

“Wyatt has earned his name, which means “brave in war.” He’s fought big battles before and always conquers challenges. We expect he will conquer cancer as well.”

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