Bend Bulletin / Journalism

Crook County teen fights bone cancer of the leg

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: November 26. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – When Crook County High School sophomore Tyler Smith learned that he had cancer four months ago, his mother was in the same hospital giving birth to his new baby brother.

“We found out that he had cancer and we got a new baby in the same week,” Dana Martin, Tyler’s mother, said.

Tyler, 16, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – bone cancer – in his right leg in late July. He had surgery to remove the tumor Oct. 18 and is now undergoing chemotherapy at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland to kill any cancer cells that might have spread to other parts of his body.

Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer and teenagers are the most commonly affected group, according to the American Cancer Society. Men are also about 50 percent more likely to develop osteosarcoma than women.

Martin described her son as a social person who likes to skateboard and spend time with friends.

Crook County High School’s Sparrow Club, a student-run organization that supports children with serious illnesses, has adopted Tyler as its “sparrow.”

“They have been wonderful, they’re working really, really hard to help us,” Martin said. “Stuff like that really makes you know that you’re not alone.”

Joanna Knower, a junior at Crook County High School and president of the Sparrow Club, said that Brooks Resources Realty has pledged $4,060 for Tyleer, at least $2,560 of which club members must redeem through community service.

“We’re just hoping to make their lives a little bit easier through this whole time,” Knower said. “It not only helps Tyler and his family, it also influences the community in a really positive way because they see teenagers, who a lot of people think don’t do anything, trying to help one of their students.”

Martin said that right now the family is using the donations to finance Tyler’s trips to and from Portland, cover co-payments for his medications and to pay bills. She added that she thinks the family would not have been able to keep their house if not for community support.

Tyler said he has been able to see some of his friends, but he is not feeling well enough to go to school right now. He has a tutor at home and at the hospital in Portland so that he can keep up with his class and re-enter school as a junior next year. He still has 34 weeks of chemotherapy left.

Right now, Tyler is wearing a plastic cast on his leg after the surgery and using a wheelchair. His hair is short because of the chemotherapy and he has to have blood drawn for testing twice a week.

Even though Martin said Tyler doesn’t like getting so much attention, she hopes his story will make people more aware of the warning signs for osteosarcoma. Tyler had been having pains in his leg, which the family thought were growing pains. Eventually, they consulted their family doctor in Prineville, who sent them for a biopsy.

Tyler said he hopes that “if (people) are having pain somewhere or something’s been bothering them, make sure they get a regular checkup and go see a doctor and see what’s going on.”

Tyler’s cancer was caught relatively early. Doctors have given him an 80 percent chance of survival. At first, they thought they would have to remove his leg, but they were able to shrink the tumor enough before surgery to save the leg.

Martin described Tyler as “one of the bravest people any of us have ever known.” She said he has maintained a positive attitude, and his new brother, Cameron, helps. Martin also has a 12-year-old daughter, Chelsea.

“Cameron has really been our ray of sunshine, he really has been a blessing to all of us and helped us through this,” Martin said. “We’ve had so much support from not just the school, but the community. People just really come together, strangers that we don’t even know are helping – it’s amazing what people will do.”

Tyler and his family were all supporting the Beavers in Friday’s University of Oregon-Oregon State University Civil War game.

She said the first thing they want to do after Tyler is done with chemotherapy is attend an OSU game in Corvallis. Martin said that Tyler wants to attend either OSU or ITT Technical Institute, while his sister, Chelsea, definitely plans to attend OSU.

“People always ask me why I don’t complain or say anything negative,” Tyler said. “There’s no point in doing that because it’s not helping anything.”

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