Nick Cannon Opens Up About Losing His 5-Month-Old Son Zen to Cancer: 'My Heart Is Shattered'

Nick Cannon's son, Zen, died on Dec. 5 from a rare form of brain cancer

Nick Cannon and Alyssa Scott are mourning the loss of their 5-month-old son, Zen.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the TV host opens up about the sudden death of his son — who recently died of a brain tumor — the grief he's experiencing, finding strength through heartbreak, and how he and Scott plan to keep Zen's memory alive.

Just days after the birth of their son, Cannon and Alyssa Scott began to worry when their "super calm" baby's breathing patterns seemed off.

"It sounded like he had fluid in his lungs, like a sinus infection or something," Cannon, who welcomed Zen with Scott on June 23 in Orange County, Calif., tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "[The doctors] didn't think it to be anything too concerning."

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Though a few weeks later, the doctor determined that Zen's head was "growing a little too quickly."

NIck Cannon rollout

In August, Cannon — who is also dad to 5-month-old twins Zion Mixolydian and Zillion Heir, whom he shares with Abby De La Rosa; 11-month-old daughter Powerful Queen and son Golden, 4, whom he shares with Brittany Bell; and twins Moroccan and Monroe, 10, whom he shares with ex-wife Mariah Carey — and Scott were faced with any parent's worst nightmare: their 2-month-old baby boy was diagnosed with a high-grade glioma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer.

High-Grade Gliomas are tumors found in the brain and spinal cord. "These tumors can grow and spread quickly," says Dr. Joffre E. Olaya, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Children's Hospital of Orange County who treated Zen. According to Cincinnati's Children's Hospital, they are rare, accounting for 8 to 12 percent of all childhood brain tumors, and their cause remains unknown. Adds Olaya: "They are very difficult to treat."

Doctors placed a shunt in Zen's skull to allow excess fluid to drain and alleviate pressure, but they discovered that his tumors had continued to grow.

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NIck Cannon rollout
Ryan Pfluger/August

"We started asking, 'Is there a way to prevent this? If not, how long do we have?' " recalls Cannon. "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."

After discussing various treatments, including chemotherapy, Scott and Cannon — who has undergone chemotherapy himself for the autoimmune disease lupus — made the difficult decision to not pursue any further invasive procedures and focus on keeping their son "as happy as he could possibly be," says Cannon.

"We were having quality-of-life conversations," he says. "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. 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."

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Nick Cannon

From there, Cannon, 41, and Scott, 28, a model and philanthropist, were determined to create moments of joy every day for Zen.

"We focused on Disneyland, our favorite place," explains Cannon. "Every month we would celebrate his birthday, just really seeing it as a victory every time he had a milestone that he was still here with us."

But over Thanksgiving weekend, things took a turn for the worse.

"You could tell he was struggling," Cannon recalls. "He was gasping for air. We'd wake up, and he wouldn't be breathing for maybe five to 10 seconds at a time, and then he'd let out a huge gasp. You could see it frightened him. It was the scariest thing I've ever experienced."

Cannon and Scott made the decision to spend a peaceful day with their son at the beach.

NIck Cannon rollout

"I was like, 'We have to watch the sun rise and just be there with him one last time,' " he says. "It was beautiful."

On Dec. 5, Zen took his last breath — with his mom and dad by his side.

"I see it as a blessing that I got to be there," says Cannon. "Alyssa says, 'I think he was just waiting for you.' "

Cannon first revealed the tragic news on his daytime talk show Nick Cannon on Dec. 7.

"We had a short time with a true angel," says Cannon. "My heart is shattered. I wish I could have done more, spent more time with him, taken more pictures. I wish I could have hugged him longer."

As grief sets in, Cannon and Scott are focusing on the good that came from their short time with Zen. "He was the most loving baby," says Cannon. "I look at being his father as a great privilege."

Adds Scott via a written statement to PEOPLE: "It was a privilege being Zen's mommy. It's so beautiful and encouraging to see even complete strangers being touched and moved by Zen's light. Zen's spirit and light will shine bright forever."

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