Teacher's medal, Brookstone's donations boost cancer patient
As about a dozen visitors crowded into Andrew Wade's hospital room a few weeks ago, his doctor reminded them to put their sanitary masks on after they snapped their photos.
"If he gets a fever tomorrow," chided Dr. Paul LoDuca, the only pediatric hematologist-oncologist in Columbus, "I'm going to blame all y'all."
Just two months ago, the 14-year-old Brookstone School student received a wristband with the Hebrew phrase "rak chazak" from Auburn University reserve quarterback Jonathan Wallace, a former Central-Phenix City star. It means "just be strong," and was part of an ancient Israelite battle cry.
This time at Midtown Medical Center, Andrew received another memento emblazoned with "rak chazak" to help him battle Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.
Dorothy Cheruiyot, a biology teacher and the cross country coach at Brookstone, wrote those words on the medal she won March 1. She finished first among the female runners in the 50-kilometer race at the Memorial Mississippi Trail 50. She placed fifth overall out of 34 competitors with a time of 6 hours, 1 minute and 40.80 seconds.
Andrew beamed as he held up the medal amid the cheering family and friends around his bed.
"Just to see the smile on his face," Cheruiyot said, "it makes every step of it worth it. I ran the easier race; he's running the tougher race."
She also presented Andrew with a super-sized check for $3,515 to benefit the Columbus Regional Pediatric Center. The donations came from Brookstone folks after she announced she was running the 50K for Andrew.
"People are giving," she said. "It's not about knowing the person; it's knowing the need."
Andrew's father, Tripp, whose family owns the Wade Companies, explained that Cheruiyot originally wanted to raise the money to help the Wades renovate Andrew's room to accommodate his rehab. The tumor that was removed from his spine left him unable to walk, but he is regaining movement in his legs through therapy.
"We're pretty blessed to have what we have and the resources to take care of him," Tripp said, adding with a laugh, "Thank God we have insurance and Aflac."
So that's why Andrew could declare the check will help "other kids who really need it, going through stuff like this that I never thought would happen to me."
Although the Wades graciously passed along the financial aid, they gratefully have accepted the emotional boost to their spirits.
"Imagine a world with nobody caring about you," Andrew said. "You'd feel depressed. But with friends coming in every day, it's nice to have people behind your back, like 'You got this.'"
All of which isn't just touchy-feely talk, his doctor said, when it comes to successful chemotherapy and beating cancer.
"It's so much to get through, all this nastiness," LoDuca said. "We do everything we can, but so much of trying to get these kids through treatment is keeping their minds active and involved. He's got a great attitude. His parents have really grounded him, and so have his friends and the support from his school."
Cheruiyot shrugged and insisted she is simply paying that support forward.
A native of Kenya, she earned her doctorate in biology at Auburn University after graduating from Columbus State University with a bachelor's degree in 2004 and a master's degree in 2007. She ran on CSU's cross country team and was named All-Peach Belt Conference in 2001 and 2003.
This is only her second year at Brookstone, but Cheruiyot already feels like part of the community.
"A lot of them," she said, "have become my family here."
Andrew and his visitors had one more reason to cheer: The previous day, after 12 weeks of aggressive chemo, no evidence of cancer was seen on his scans, Tripp said.
"It's remarkable," he said.
Next up will be about six weeks of radiation treatments in Atlanta, followed by 22 weeks of on and off chemo, Tripp said.
"We'll be doing it until about September."
And with such loving care, LoDuca predicted, Andrew will pay it forward one day.
"It will change his life forever," the doctor said. "Nothing will ever be the same. He can have complete recovery, but he never will be the same person because of what he went through -- and a lot of times for the better."