I’ve been a little preoccupied over the past week with challenges I believed to be important. Yet they are absolutely meaningless when compared to dealing with cancer and side effects of chemotherapy. I apologize for missing a few blogs, but sometimes we get so caught up in trying to deal with our own problems that we need to hear a story about courage. This story is a good one, but it will not have a happy ending. However, it is one that helps me appreciate life even more.
A 12-year old boy (I’ll call him Jeff) who has battled a rare form of cancer since he was 7 recently made a bold decision. He is stopping his treatments so he can go home and be with his family. This young boy is aware of what his decision means. So is his hometown in Tennessee, which has rallied around the boy who is facing such a stark decision with such maturity and good humor.
“I had the opportunity to meet him this summer,” said the principal of Jeff’s middle school. “He is a very courageous young man to have a very mature adult outlook on life. It’s amazing as a 12-year old he is really able to face the opportunities and challenges that he has in his remaining time.”
“He’s just a wonderful little boy,” Jeff’s grandmother said. “He’s always happy. No matter what he’s always happy and he doesn’t like to talk about his cancer. It makes him sad and he wants to be happy.”
Jeff’s school and neighbors have been touched by the boy and are trying to make his last days cheerful, raising money for his hospice care and taking care of his bucket list. Jeff has two wishes, to tour the Coca Cola factory in Atlanta, Ga., and go to the indoor water park at the Wilderness Resort in Tennessee.
Jeff is seeing one of his wishes come true very soon. He will be visiting the Coca Cola factory in a limo, the ride donated by a businessman.
“Everybody has been so wonderful,” Jeff’s grandmother said. Jeff’s childhood has been wracked with pain and filled with surgeries and harsh medicine. When he was 7 he went to the doctor for his back aches. “We didn’t know what was wrong with him,” his grandmother said.
His family took him to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where the doctors diagnosed him with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. This type of cancer is made up of cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles and is more common in children than adults, according to the American Cancer Society.
“The tumor on his spine was growing so fast, it paralyzed him. He was losing the ability to walk,” his doctor said. Jeff had surgery on his spine, a bar and two “cages” – cylinder devices in the spine to replace discs – were put into his back. He had to learn how to walk again after the surgery and received radiation as well as chemotherapy. The treatments worked, but only for two years.
When Jeff was in the sixth grade, “He went for all of his scans and tests and they said everything was gone,” his grandmother said. “Then two or three months later it came back and it hit him pretty hard.” Once the cancer came back Jeff again resumed chemotherapy and radiation. Jeff now has tumors in his legs, arms, shoulders, near his heart, in his lungs, and there may be more.
The doctors have tried everything, but the tumors kept coming back. The only choice left is experimental treatments in Texas, but Jeff does not want to leave home. So he made his decision. “He’s been going through a lot since he was 7,” his grandmother said. “Now he’s on a lot of pain medication and hospice is coming in. We don’t know what kind of time frame we’re in.”
To be continued…