Robert Guerrero has confirmed that he will be attending the “Running Over Childhood Cancer” 5K run/walk at 9 a.m. Sunday in Gilroy Sports Park on Monterey Road in Gilroy.
Carmen Murray’s bubbly expression flickers momentarily to something darker as she recalls the day in 2008 when her husband Scott phoned from the Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose with news of their only child.
“You need to come,” Scott, 44, said. “They think there is a mass on his liver.”
Driving to the hospital, the worried mother ran through a mental checklist of concerns she had about her 16-month-old son, Ty.
There was the fussiness, the lack of long naps, the regular fevers and a little limp in his walk that would come and go. But the family’s pediatrician in San Jose had explained all of the proud parents’ worries away as regular stages in the development of some children.
Arriving at Good Samaritan Hospital, Carmen knew instinctively her world was about to come crashing down.
“He just looked so sick,” the 41-year-old mother recalled. “It was the worst moment.”
Doctors at Good Samaritan initially made a hesitant diagnosis of Wilms Tumor and sent the family to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford for additional testing.
Two days passed before the Stanford medical team figured out what was really wrong. The news: Their baby boy had Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer with a high mortality rate between 70 and 90 percent in the first five years of a child’s life.
“I was in shock,” Carmen said. “It was so surreal.”
Her son had a big, softball-sized tumor sitting on an adrenal gland above one of his kidneys.
Five years later, Ty is doing much better – there is currently no evidence of cancer and his parents hope it stays that way. In the interim, the family is focused on helping other children suffering from the same condition that rocked their world.
At 9 a.m. Sunday, May 19, the Arms Wide Open Childhood Cancer Foundation will hold a 5K run/walk to raise money for research to help children just like Ty at the Gilroy Sports Park on Monterey Road on Gilroy’s south side. There will be face painting, a balloon artist and even volunteers dressed up as superheroes to help entertain the younger participants.
As Ty continues on his road to recovery, Carmen and Scott are thankful for the support they received from their jobs as probation officers with Santa Clara County. Coworkers donated their vacation hours – Carmen received 2,000 – so that the Murrays could still have an income. While medical insurance covered Ty’s bills, Carmen underscores the big picture aim of the 5K run/walk: to raise funds for research into less toxic treatment methods for childhood cancer.
Ty, the man of the moment, is less keen on the attention that he will get from fellow pupils at Las Animas Elementary in Gilroy as news of the fundraising event spreads, according to his mother.
“I don’t want people to laugh at me,” he told his mom, concerned that photos from when he was bald and undergoing treatment would surface. He even told his mother that everything should be more about the children that didn’t make it out the other side of their battle with cancer. Principal Silvia Reyes of Las Animas Elementary has watched Ty engage with students and faculty around campus and is pleased with the progress he’s making in school. Reyes explained that Ty is in the school’s Dual Immersion program (a learning format that teaches in English and Spanish) and that he “loves to read and be read to.”
On a recent Friday morning, Carmen and Scott’s twin 2-year-old daughters, Siena and Isabella, ran around the family home, giggling in toddler speak as Scott attempted to keep them occupied. The Murrays have lived in their northwest Gilroy home since 2002. Ty turned six in December and is just like any other rambunctious young boy, according to his mother. His hair has grown back dark brown and is kept short and neat.
“He loves the pool,” Carmen beamed. “He loves basketball.”
There are, however, small outward physical signs of the rigorous treatment Ty went through from 2008 to 2010, explained Carmen.
“He doesn’t run right,” Carmen noted. “He kind of gallops.”
This is an unfortunate side effect of radiation Ty received as doctors attempted to eradicate a troublesome spot of cancer in his left tibia, Carmen explained.
He also has high-frequency hearing loss, another unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy treatments.
As a little boy who earned 12 strings full of “Beads of Courage” while at Stanford – Ty was given a small, colorful bead to thread on a piece of string every time he underwent a treatment, procedure or even received a shot – the young patient has endured more medical prodding than most people will in a lifetime.
“Not that many kids in that hospital that had this many,” noted Scott as he spread the seemingly endless necklaces – Mardi Gras-like souvenirs from a party no one would ever want to attend – out onto the dining table.
For now, the Murray family just wants to get through each day without Ty having a relapse. The Murrays say that doctors don’t use the word “remission” when talking about Ty because his cancer was so aggressive.
The Murrays are also devoted to spreading the word about Neuroblastoma and raising funds for pediatric cancer research, something Carmen is heavily invested in as the California chapter president of the Arms Wide Open Childhood Cancer Foundation. Every year in the U.S., roughly 650 children are diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, according to Carmen, who also pointed out that every day, 46 children will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. and seven of them will die.
In 2009 to 2010, Ty was treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where pioneering techniques were used to infuse him with antibodies in order to combat a stubborn piece of Neuroblastoma. These types of treatments last 30 minutes and are notoriously painful. Although Ty was only 2-years-old and unable to describe what he was feeling other than crying out in pain, there were plenty of other children who could.
“You would hear kids screaming ‘I’m dying,’” said Carmen, visibly unnerved by the memory. “You think you’re in a psych ward.”
Today, Ty has had no evidence of disease but it’s still too early to call him “cancer free” notes Carmen. His future looks a little better every day since April 7, 2010, however.
“It’s nerve wracking,” said Scott, who points out that with most types of cancer, five years without relapsing is key. “You’re hoping for the best, knowing the worst could happen.”
The “Running Over Childhood Cancer” 5K Run/Walk will be held at 9 a.m. Sunday, May 19 at Gilroy Sports Park, 5925 Monterey Road in Gilroy. Details: RunningOverChildhoodCancer.webs.com.