Co-authored by Collin Davis, childhood cancer survivor, Boy Scout, Honor Roll student, and fundraiser
At first glance, my 11-year-old cousin, Collin, appears to be a typical American boy. Collin is a Boy Scout, who enjoys the outdoors. He loves sports, especially football, and he consistently makes the honor roll at his elementary school. Collin also has a wicked sense of humor and loves to tease his younger sister Catie. However, as you get to know Collin more, you realize that his journey in life has been epic, which has in turn shaped his positive outlook on life. You see Collin is a cancer survivor turned philosopher and philanthropist.
When Collin was 13 months old, his parents, John and Michelle, noticed a raised mass on the back of his head and took him to the hospital. They were told that it was a hematoma that would eventually disappear, and he was sent home. At 15 months, Collin's right eye became sluggish and appeared to protrude from its socket. His parents were told by the pediatrician that it was just a lazy eye. Then, Collin stopped walking, which the pediatrician attributed to a virus. His parents refused to believe that Collin's symptoms were not related. Michelle took him to four different doctors and two hospitals to no avail. Finally, when Collin was 17 months old, a CAT scan at a third hospital revealed that the orbit of his right eye and sinus cavity had been eaten away and that he was blind in his right eye. A lesion large enough to displace his brain was found on his skull, and his inability to walk was caused by multiple lesions on his skeleton.
Collin was immediately sent to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, where he was diagnosed by Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo as having Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), a rare catastrophic illness that is cancer-like. His doctor noted that if he had not been properly diagnosed, he would have died within a month. Collin began receiving chemotherapy, but the lesions continued to grow. In total, he received three rounds of chemo -- each stronger than the last -- for a total of 17 months. He also underwent four rounds of radiation to save his eyesight and to shrink the lesion on his skull as it was pushing on an artery. Yet, Collin was a trooper, and by age 3, he was in remission from LCH!
At a checkup at St. Jude when Collin was 6 years old, his parents were told that he had a brain tumor -- Astrocytoma. He had no symptoms. His doctors believe that it was caused by the radiation used to save his eyesight as it was in the exact location where the radiation was used. Collin was transferred to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, where the tumor was removed by Dr. Frederick Boop. St. Jude originally categorized the tumor as Grade III, but Johns Hopkins downgraded it to Grade II. In February, Collin will reach the five-year mark of being cancer free!
Collin has asked to tell you his story in his own words:
Hi, I'm Collin. I'm 11 years old and in the 6th grade at Perdido Elementary School in Perdido, Alabama. I am on the honor roll for making all As in school and am in Humanities for the Gifted. I want to be a scientist when I grow up and study amphibians and reptiles. My favorite class is Physical Education (PE), and I love football and baseball. I love football the most, but Dr. Boop says I'm not allowed to play because I have titanium screws in my head. My favorite football team is the University of Alabama, and my favorite player is Christion Jones, #22 for Bama. Roll Tide! If I could play, I would be the best choice for the future kicker at Alabama!
When I was 17 months old, I was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. LCH is an immune system disease that can effect different organs. In my case, it affected my bones causing lesions in over 100 places on my skeleton. The area most affected was my skull where the disease ate through the back of my head and the orbit of my right eye. I had radiation and chemotherapy at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and I've been in remission from LCH for nine years! I have cataracts from the radiation, but my skull grew back!
At age 6, I was diagnosed with diffuse Astrocytoma, a type of brain cancer. The Astrocytoma was located above my left eye and was thought to be caused by the treatment of the LCH. I was transferred from St. Jude to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital for brain surgery, having a complete resection of the Astrocytoma. After the surgery, I would not speak for three days. They brought in therapy dogs to get me to talk but that didn't work. So, they let me go early back to St. Jude to see if that would help, and it did.
After having brain cancer, I decided to raise money for St. Jude to help other kids going through treatment. I started Team Collin with my parents, and we've been walking with friends and family in the St. Jude Give Thanks Walk the Saturday before Thanksgiving for five years. I've raised about $7,000 so far.
On February 15, 2015, I will be 5 years cancer free! I want to thank Dr. Galindo, Dr. Boop, and Nurse Suzanne because she came in to help me on her days off! I also want to thank Teresa for helping me get my wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation when I was 8. I wished for a real train car as a playhouse. CSX donated and refurbished an old Caboose and put it in my yard! Awesome!
What did I learn from my experience with cancer? It was not fun, but it gave me the ability to handle things better. Life can be hard, but you have to push through it and trust that God is in control. Give thanks to God every day for what you have. And do your best with it.