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Cancer diagnosis shatters senior year

This feature, the first in a three-part series detailing a teenage cancer experience, discusses an event from 2001 through the perspective of an 8-year-old sibling.

At the pinnacle of the high school experience, my older brother faced a dilemma much more crucial than planning a prom night or even choosing a college.

During the summer before his senior year, 16-year-old Scott Regnerus noticed an unusual bulge on his left hand. He could feel it constricting the movement of his fingers, but dismissed it as nothing more than a coincidence.

With his diagnosis of juvenile diabetes at age two in mind, my mother knew better than to ignore possible warning signs for yet another disease. She immediately sought medical attention for Scott at St. Joseph?s Hospital in Bellingham, WA, where the doctor identified the bulge as a growth entangling his tendons.

The doctor said the growth would be too difficult to surgically remove because of its location, so he recommended amputating the hand. Determined not to lose his hand, however, Scott demanded a second opinion.

The second surgeon ? much to Scott’s relief ? thought otherwise. Two days later, the growth was removed from Scott’s hand and adjusting to its new home in a small specimen jar.

Although the surgeon thought it benign, he sent it off to a pathology lab for a more thorough examination. With his hand free of the tumor, my brother and the rest of my family continued our plans to travel to the East Coast on vacation. But in case the growth was malignant, the doctor recruited my aunt, Laura Rossi, to be an emergency contact.

Less than one week into our vacation, the doctor contacted my aunt and needed to reach us. Based on test results from the pathology lab, the growth was malignant ? it contained rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare childhood cancer.

?They?re at the East Coast on vacation,? she reminded him. Not wanting to ruin our vacation with the news, the doctor took it upon himself to contact specialists in Seattle and set up appointments with them.

The day after we returned home from our vacation, Scott was scheduled to have his stitches taken out by the same doctor who removed the growth. On the way there, my mother tried to brace him for what the doctor was about to say: ?I think everything is okay, but this doctor might want another specialist to take a look at your hand.?

In disbelief, Scott turned and looked at her: ?It?s cancer, isn?t it??

For six consecutive weeks, my mother and Scott made the two-hour drive from Bellingham to Seattle and back for daily radiation treatment on his hand. The 15-minute process drained all of his energy, leaving him fatigued for the rest of the day. Although he attended a few classes to keep up with high school credits and met with friends as often as he could, the radiation treatment taxed his social life ? something Scott held very dear, and something difficult for him to sacrifice.

In between the series of radiation, Scott underwent week-long chemotherapy treatments at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The process began with surgery: the surgeons implanted a Hickman line ? an intravenous catheter ? to Scott’s chest, which allowed the three chemotherapy drugs to directly enter his bloodstream.

While Scott lay in his hospital bed watching the Food Network, the doctors pumped his dosage of the various medications through his Hickman line. In addition, Scott gave himself several shots each day to multiply his supply of white blood cells ? compensating for those the chemotherapy had killed. The entire process lasted five days, and after each treatment, Scott returned home to visit friends as his immune system permitted.

In order to show their support for Scott and his trials, he and his friends shaved their heads at our house. Scott’s hair fell to the ground before the chemotherapy had its chance to do the same, as he had planned since before the treatment. The next day at school, the principal noticed the overnight baldness of Scott and his friends; he and another teacher followed suit and arrived hairless the next day.

After two months of chemotherapy treatment, Scott’s doctors referred him to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America ? an organization that aims to give “hope, strength and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions.” Because of his cancer, Scott fit the bill; in response, representatives of the Foundation sought him at our home.

The meeting with Make-A-Wish embodied one of the few positive experiences of Scott’s senior year. The representatives asked him what he wished for to help him through his cancer. His request: a laptop with which he would be able to stay in touch with his friends while in Seattle, and keep up with homework when he felt capable.

The Foundation arranged for a limousine to arrive at our house and take Scott ? along with a dozen of his friends ? to the Olive Garden for the presentation of his wish. Friends and family attended the dinner, which Make-A-Wish hosted free-of-charge. At the event, the now-hairless Scott received the laptop among several other gifts.

Scott’s supporters extended beyond his circle of friends and some faculty, however. The football players also shaved their heads, and their new battle cry, ?Scott!? resounded around the stadium as they played the semi-final game they had dedicated to him. They won the game; Scott beat his cancer.

Six weeks of radiation and 42 weeks of chemotherapy treatment comprised Scott’s entire senior year of high school, finishing the week before his graduation. He walked and participated in the graduation ceremony with all of his classmates, including those who had supported him throughout his ordeal. He had conquered his bout with cancer ? however, it would not be his last.

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  • M

    Maddie YeeApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    Thank you for all the comments! This was quite an experience. Austin, thanks for following through… We will all look back on this- or we already have-and laugh.

    Reply
  • L

    Logan RoodApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    Good job, Maddie, on making not only one but two goals! Good job, Austin, for actually shaving your head. I didnt think you were gonna do it.

    Reply
  • C

    Cassidy HutchinsApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    Uhhuh…that’s how it’s done. Good job ‘D’! Be ready to lead the team in goals this year…as a FRESHMAN! Keep it up!

    Reply
  • A

    Austin RurikApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    So yeah, don’t ever bet your hair.

    Maddie, congratulations on scoring your goal and getting the chance to shave my head; it was a fun bet that was worth making.

    Looking forward to our next bet, and this time I’m gonna win!

    Reply
  • L

    Lisa DooleyApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    You are so awesome, Maddie; you too, Austin, for really going through with it.

    Reply
  • J

    Jordan BoudreauApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    Way to go Maddie! At least you don’t have to do anything to your hair anymore, Austin! haha

    Reply
  • J

    Josh SmithApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    I shave my head on a normal basis! Easy Austin : )

    Reply
  • A

    Alexandra FreaApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    I cannot believe Austin would doubt the soccer team and Maddie! I wasn’t sure if Maddie or Austin would go out with their ends of the deal. Good job, Maddie!

    Reply
  • R

    Rainey HayesApr 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

    I guess this will teach everyone that they should not make bets against Maddy Yee; you will be sorry….

    Reply