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Reason to Relay

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By Carolyn Risner

For the last 15 years, it has been my custom to focus on the survivors of cancer as a way to promote the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fund-raiser.

The first time I did it was in April 1996 and it was my first assignment at a new newspaper.

The survivor was Miranda Fleming, then about 30 who had survived Hodgkin’s Disease, or cancer of the lymph nodes when she was about 20.

Little did I know that only five months later, my son, Nick, just three months shy of his 12th birthday would receive the same diagnosis.

It’s a story I share about this time every year because although my mother had uterine cancer when I was 11 and my brother Eugene would later die from lung cancer, it was the diagnosis of my son that made cancer and its horrific effects on both the patient and the caregiver a reality.

Nick’s story is both detailed and unusual. Neither time nor space allows the entire story to be told so Iee^will summarize it briefly here.

Nick was part of a protocol at the National Institutes of Health in Bethseda, Md. where he was being tested and treated for Cushing’s Syndrome, an adrenal afflicton where the gland produce an abundance of steroids leaving the affected person short, stocky and “beefed up.”

A tumor usually causes the Cushing’s and about three weeks into testing, doctors at NIHee^decided to do biopsies, including the lymph glands to determine where the elusive tumor was.

They sent us back to Georgia for a five-day pass while the lab did its work.

I was alone the day the call came. Nick and his father had gone to play golf on a beautiful autumn day.

The endocrinologist, Dr. Zolt Orban, told me they did not find the tumor but instead discovered Nick had Hodgkin’s Disease.

Cancer. I wrote on the telephone pad. Death? I questioned.

Telling your child he has cancer is something no parent should endure. But Nick, wise beyond his years and a Believer, was stoic. I had no choice but to be strong as well.

Over the next month, as we traveled between Georgia and NIH, we educated ourselves and others about the disease.

On Monday, Nov. 18, 1996 doctors preformed exploratory surgery on Nick’s pituitary gland, hoping to discover the tumor there.

They did. But while its removal “cured” the Cushing’s, it caused the cancer to go crazy because as long as Nick’s body was mass producing the steroids, the cancer was suppressed.

With the adrenals working normally, there were no steroids and the cancer had a field day.

Airflighted to Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, pediatric oncologists immediately started his chemotherapy even though he was recovering from brain surgery.

Over the next six months, the chemo continued and Nick’s blood counts improved.

Along the way, the American Cancer Society was there–providing information, financial assistance and ensuring our needs were met.

It is only through research, funded in part through the Relay for Life, that my son, now 25 and a graduate of the University of Georgia is happy, healthy and alive.

May marks 14 years of remission. Each year, no matter where I am, I participate in a Relay for Life to celebrate my son’s life.

I know the good the ACSee^does with the monies raised. My son is the proof.

Please join our community Saturday, April 17 at Williston High School as we celebrate life.

Nick and I both would be grateful.