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An open battle against cancer

A mother resumes her online chronicle of her teenage son's courageous fight against the disease years after they thought he'd beaten the odds.

July 14, 2008|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer
  • Chase has already beaten cancer twice, but the odds are getting longer. The 13-year-old who once asked, "Why me?" has matured into a resolute, independent 18-year-old who no longer wants his mother to go with him to the doctor and who calls all the shots on his medical care.
Chase has already beaten cancer twice, but the odds are getting longer.… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Chase Crawford-Quickel is cancer free! Hallelujah!! Thanks be to God! Your prayers, love and support have gotten us through one heck of a year. I can't stop crying and finally they are tears of joy. Thank you, thank you, thank you. . . .

Kim Quickel writes these joy-filled words in her blog in February 2004, after her then-14-year-old son, Chase, had endured surgery and a year of chemotherapy and radiation to beat a rare soft-tissue cancer.

Three cancer-free years pass. The blog -- which began as an update for friends and family but became an intimate chronology of a family's battle to save its child -- sits idle.

Chase enters his junior year at Aliso Niguel High School. He spends weekends fishing with Blake, his best friend since first grade, and hanging out with Kelsey, his girlfriend. During the spring, a cut on the inside of his lip doesn't heal. A fever prompts Chase to visit his oncologist.

"They took my blood and they told me right away what it was," Chase said recently, looking back. "I was not expecting this. I was just expecting to go home and, I don't know, plan spring break and stuff."

It was time to start the blog, and the battle, again.

Chase Crawford Quickel has been diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). It is extremely life threatening; He will be hospitalized for 4-6 months. During this time he will be home a total of 12 days, spread out during the 4-6 month period, for a mental health reprieve. Chase has begun chemotherapy.

After four months, in August 2007, Chase receives a bone marrow transplant. He misses the end of junior year and half of senior year. But the anonymous donor's stem cells take root and begin to pump out cancer-free blood. Everything seems normal.

In November, Chase poses for senior pictures, peeling off the thin wool cap he always wears. A short crop of dark fuzz is finally growing back. He turns 18 five days before Christmas and returns to school weeks later. He catches up quickly and makes plans to graduate with his class in June.

When he grows tired and sick in February, his parents pray it is just a virus. His doctors order blood tests.

As I write this, Chase is fishing with his best buddy Blake, he has no idea what is in front of him. The doctors said to send Chase fishing this weekend. Chase will be admitted Monday. We will face the decision to let his life be and face the course or to do very aggressive chemo then another bone marrow transplant. Chase will ultimately make the decision. Please no calls or visits to the house at this time . . . just pray, pray, pray. . . . I feel dead inside.

Chase arrives home and hits the snack pantry. His mother asks him to sit down. He refuses. She looks him in the eyes and says, "You have leukemia."

I asked for a hug and he said "Not right now." He went to his room, and I went outside to howl with my pain. Dr. Neudorf called around 5 pm and wanted to talk to us. Chase would not allow me to be on the phone, so I stood by the door and tried to overhear their conversation. Chase wanted to know his odds of survival with or without treatment. It killed me to hear those questions.

Chase has already beaten cancer twice, but the odds are getting longer. The 13-year-old who once asked, "Why me?" has matured into a resolute, independent 18-year-old who no longer wants his mother to go with him to the doctor and who calls all the shots on his medical care.

"I had always wanted it because she just worries. She's another nurse," he said. "I like to have control of myself."

After their conversation, Chase gave me permission . . . to talk to the doctor. I wanted the answers to the same questions Chase had asked. So here goes, Chase has less than 2 months to live without treatment, or with treatment, a slim chance of survival.

In the weeks that follow, Chase withdraws from school and returns to the hospital. Doctors hope five days of chemotherapy will kill the leukemia -- without killing him -- and allow for another bone marrow transplant. Chase is weak and feverish. His chest hurts and he can't breathe. His short dark hair falls out again.

Yesterday he requested his head shavers. . . . When the nurses told him that his counts were too low for shaving, he took his fist and immediately removed a handful of hair. At that moment his OICU nurse said, "OK, we'll shave you". When I walked in the room, I saw my boy, who is a man, shaven and bald in certain odd spots.

"My hair had just started to grow back," Chase said. "That kinda sucks, but whatever."

This teenage nonchalance -- with a dash of bravado -- appears whenever Chase talks about the cancer. Dr. Steven Neudorf tells him he has a 30% to 40% chance of surviving the first year. Chase takes the news stoically, shooting his mother an exasperated look when she gets teary.

"It's just statistics," he said. "I'd rather just think positive. I just want to get [treatment] over with. I don't really think about that. It doesn't get me anywhere if I'm sad and stuff."

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