One fall day in September 2014, Kevin walked outside and witnessed his son, Ty, throwing and catching a baseball with his left arm. Ty is right-handed. “When I saw that I knew something was wrong,” Kevin said. Ty had recently noted discomfort in his shoulder, but the family chalked it up to soreness from Ty’s stint on the wrestling team that spring and summer.
A local orthopedic doctor concurred it was likely a sports injury, until the X-ray came back. It was certainly not a sports injury. “You look at the X-ray and see all these perfect bones but then on the scapula area it looks like someone took a paintbrush and made smears,” Kevin said. “I was devastated.”
Ty’s mother, Robin, had died from cancer in her 30s. When Ty’s tumor was found, he was 16 years old.
His stepmom, Erin, is a physician. Among her associates there was a consensus: Ty needed to go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to more than 80% since it opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude is working to drive the overall survival rate for childhood cancer to 90%, and we won’t stop until no child dies from cancer.
At St. Jude, Ty underwent 14 weeks of chemotherapy before undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, which was the result of osteosarcoma, a bone cancer rarely found in the shoulder. Fourteen more weeks of chemotherapy followed.
What’s more, Ty became a part of the Cancer Predisposition Program at St. Jude. A team of doctors, nurses and genetic counselors worked together with Ty’s family to find out if his cancer might be inherited. And a discovery was made. Ty tested positive for Li-Fraumeni, a disorder that prevents the body’s ability to fight off certain tumors and cancers. He inherited the trait from his mother.
“You wonder why this happens, like what happened to Robin and then Ty,” said Kevin. “And then because of St. Jude, you have an explanation.” In addition to coming back to St. Jude for regular checkups, Ty will continue to get brain scans, bone scans and other tests because of the Cancer Predisposition Program. “Whether it’s a primary cancer or reoccurring, the key is catching it early,” explained Kevin.
While everyone was prepared for Ty’s mobility to be severely limited after treatment, this hasn’t been the case. A senior in high school and an honors student to boot, Ty plays golf and soccer competitively. And he’s a lifeguard. “Every sport he wants to play, he plays,” Kevin said.
He attributes this success to St. Jude. “The level of care and compassion at St. Jude — it’s a different world,” Kevin marveled. “It’s an amazing place, and people need to see that.”