Reporting Lisa Sigell
Since ThinkCure started, more than $1 million has been raised for research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and City of Hope in Duarte.
Friday marks the kick-off of ThinkCure!’s big fundraising weekend this year. Leading up to that day, we will be telling the stories of the children and adults battling cancer and what ThinkCure! has meant to them. This is Nate’s story.
Nate has a room full of toys and loves playing with his brothers. He is a child with his whole life ahead of him. But three different times in just 18 months his parents were told that he was going to die.
“The first time we were told, ‘three months to live’… The next time we were told, ‘six months to live’… Three weeks to live, at one point; no one knows until it’s over,” Nate’s father said.
This story begins in Fate, Texas. Nate Oxford was nearly 3-years old when he was diagnosed with terminal brain and spine cancer. Doctors at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas aggressively treated him with heavy doses of chemotherapy.
“I mean it’s a nightmare. It was scary. It truly was scary,” Nate’s mother said.
Within five months the family had the news they prayed for — the cancer was gone. But less than a month later, it was back. This time doctors added radiation.
“As long as Nate has the fight in him, we do to. You just keep going,” she said.
Once again, he was in the clear.
“Even though it would come back, he would bounce back and show us signs that this kid wants to make it,” his father said.
Then came a third setback — the cancer that had all but disappeared was worse than ever. It has spread into his hip and pelvis. Nate, then just 4-years-old, was given three weeks to live.
His parents said the doctors at the hospital in Dallas did everything they could. But they just could not give up. They did their research, contacted five more children’s hospitals across the country, but each time they were told there was nothing else anyone could do.
“Inside we would tell ourselves, until it’s over, it’s not over.”
“We knew if we could find one person who would at least give him a chance, actually look at him, then we could work with that,” Nate’s father said.
That person was Dr. Jonathan Finlay at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He told the family there was a small chance an experimental treatment would work. They decided the risk was worth it and flew from Dallas to L.A.
Dr. Finlay would use a radical treatment that would bring Nate to the brink of death with massive doses of chemotherapy. If that worked, he would get a bone marrow transplant, common for those with leukemia, but not for those with brain cancer.
Still, there was another step; Nate would need a marrow donor, because his own would be destroyed by the high doses of chemo.
It turned out that his older brother, 9-year-old Jake, was a perfect match. Jake knew it was his brother’s only hope.
“I was worried that it might not work on Nate and there would be nothing else to do for it,” Jake said.
But it did work. First the chemo reduced the cancer, then the healthy marrow took over, continuing to kill off any remaining cancer cells that chemotherapy had missed.
This “big-bang treatment” will now be tried in more brain cancer patients.
“I guess my track record is if the glass is 95 percent empty, I tend to focus on the 5 percent that may be full. It’s important to remember a child is not a statistic,” Dr. Finlay said.
Nate Oxford is cancer free right now, the longest period he has gone without treatment. He is learning to walk and talk again. All because of two parents from Fate, Texas, who did not let Fate determine their son’s destiny.
As for ThinkCure, the big fundraising weekend starts Friday, but the online auction has already started. Bid on everything from a base-running lesson with the Dodgers’ first-base coach to a visit with Vin Sculley in the broadcast booth to memorabilia autographed by Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Madonna and Billy Joel.
For more information visit www.thinkcure.org. All the donated money goes directly to ThinkCure!.