‘God got me’

Published 10:41 am Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A pair of cancer survivors lock arms with two young men as they take part in the traditional opening lap of Friday’s Hertford-Gates Relay for Life at Squirrel Park on the Chowan University campus. | Photo by Cal Bryant

A pair of cancer survivors lock arms with two young men as they take part in the traditional opening lap of Friday’s Hertford-Gates Relay for Life at Squirrel Park on the Chowan University campus. | Photo by Cal Bryant

MURFREESBORO – Behind every bout with cancer is a story.

Sadly, some never receive a chance to share their words of survival as the end of life comes far too soon. But there are people like Cathie Eason and her son, Tyler.

Eason is a Kindergarten teacher assistant at Gatesville Elementary School; Tyler is a cancer survivor.

Eason’s co-workers noted her tenacity over the period of time she stood with her son, giving him strength to carry on. Eason said she, like her son, put it all on the shoulders of God to carry them through what was a tough time in their lives. Little did Eason know at the outset of that battle that it would be Tyler who gave her the strength to survive a journey full of potholes.

Tyler, now 15, was diagnosed at age 12 with Rhabdomyosarcoma, commonly referred to as RMS, a type of cancer, specifically a sarcoma (cancer of connective tissues), in which the cancer cells are thought to arise from skeletal muscle progenitors. It can also be found attached to muscle tissue, wrapped around intestines, or in any anatomic location. In Tyler’s case, it appeared as a cyst on one of his testicles.

Eason chose to share her story…a testimony to the young man she calls “my hero” during Friday’s opening ceremony of the 2016 Hertford-Gates Relay for Life held at Chowan University.

“Our journey began during spring break in 2015. We were in Boston when Tyler called me into the bathroom to show me a small knot on his right testicle,” Eason recalled.

Initially, the knot was believed to be just a tiny, fluid-filled sac. However, it began to grow rapidly.

“When they scheduled surgery to remove the sac, the doctor came out and said there was a tumor with blood vessels going everywhere,” Eason said. “They removed the tumor and a couple of days later we learned it was cancer (RMS).”

Tyler was referred to East Carolina Pediatric Oncology in Greenville. A series of five surgeries followed.

“It was like a daze,” she said of those multiple operations.

Then came the aftermath – treatment. Eason said her son underwent 23 days of radiation and one year of chemotherapy. That chemo was once a week and then every other weekend Tyler was admitted to the hospital for a round of three treatments.

“We traveled back and forth to Greenville for one year,” Eason said.

She added if had not been for the close relationship between she and her son, the outcome might have been much different.

“Because Tyler told me immediately of what was going on with his body, we were able to get a head start,” she stressed. “He felt comfortable showing that sac to me, particularly where it was and him being a young boy. I thank God for that.”

And it came at a time where Eason was involved as a caregiver to her mother, a two-time breast cancer survivor, and also having just lost a sister to colon cancer.

“I thank God for East Carolina Pediatric Oncology, they took such good care of us, they gave us a road map of everything that Tyler was going to go through,” Eason said. “But still it was a journey that each day you didn’t know what to expect.”

During chemo, Eason said she spent a lot of sleepless nights listening out for her son just in case he was suffering through one of the main side affects – throwing up. There were other times of pain, fever and dehydration. She watched her son lose weight….falling from 106 to 65 pounds.

“That’s a hurting feeling as a mother, when your child is in pain and there’s nothing more you can do other than drive him to Greenville….we spent some long rides there,” she noted.

What gave her the strength to get through that one particular year was her faith in God.

“He was behind the wheel on our year-long trips to Greenville; he gave me strength and comfort when I needed it the most, and I kept moving,” Eason stressed.

Meanwhile, she was watching her son fight with all his might to overcome cancer.

“Tyler kept pressing on; he may have been sick, but he would still go to church…he would lie down on the back pew and listen to the sermon,” Eason said. “He smiled through the pain and still managed to go to some functions at school.”

Still, there were times when Eason would break down emotionally.

“I wouldn’t let Tyler see me cry,” she said. “But there was one day when he was in the hospital for his weekend round of chemo and I finally broke down and the tears flowed. He was right there, laying in the hospital bed and he looked at me and said ‘God got me.’ That was my cue to suck it up and get through this.”

Months later, Tyler finished chemo and was given the opportunity to “ring the bell” (signaling the end of the treatments).

“There were tears of joy; there was finally a chance to catch your breath,” Eason admitted. “We had traveled a long journey…one beginning with pain in his eyes, but also with determination in his heart. We got through it; we beat this and we did it by totally relying on the Lord and his healing power. I pulled my strength from God and from Tyler.”

Now, this powerful testimony has led to the formation of a college scholarship in Tyler’s name (and his late aunt) awarded annually to a graduating senior at Gates County High School.

“We also got through this tough time thanks to a lot of great people in Gates County,” Eason proclaimed. “They were wonderful…they rallied around us, conducting fundraisers and sending schoolteachers to our home every day, after they had finished their normal day, to teach Tyler. We couldn’t have gotten through this without the help and support of the Gates County School System.”

For Shannon Pittman, one of the co-chairs for this year’s Relay for Life, she couldn’t help but to smile when listening to Tyler’s story of survival.

“We’re gathering here on a weekend where we are still mourning the loss of one young man (20-year-old Caleb Topping) while celebrating the lives of Tyler and 5-year-old Henry Hodges (a cancer survivor),” Pittman said. “Relay is a family you never want to be a part of, but once you become a part of this family you really are a family.

“This is my Christmas…these people are my family. We’re all here to celebrate family members, and to remember those no longer with us,” she continued. “We’re still doing a good thing when it comes to raising money to fight cancer, but you always feel that you can do more.”

As far as the fundraising portion of the 2016 event, Pittman said the goal of $270,000 is reachable.

“We came into this weekend in pretty good shape, but the weather hurt us,” she said, referencing Friday’s cold snap followed by Saturday’s wicked winds that toppled over a few tents, prompting the event to end one hour earlier than scheduled. “We still have until August to reach our goal, and there are a few strong fundraisers left to hold. We’re going to make it.”

As part of Friday’s festivities, William Riddick, Relay Team Captain for Nucor, was honored with the Heart of Relay Award. On Saturday, Michaela Futrell and Colton Byrum were respectively crowned “Little Miss Relay” and “Little Mr. Relay” as the leading fundraisers for children. Taylor Maione was recognized as the Kid’s Walk Art Contest winner.

Due to Saturday’s winds, which became more intense just after the annual Kid’s Walk, the awards ceremony was postponed. Pittman said those awards will be given out at Relay’s annual wrap-up event (date TBA).

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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