Editor’s Column: Kicking Kevin’s Cancer

Editor's Column: Kicking Kevin's Cancer

Paul Kasabian

Editor’s Note: After this article was written about senior Kevin Williams’ fight with cancer, on Wednesday, April 14 Kevin’s insurance company told the Williams family and Kathlin Ramsdell, Kevin’s girlfriend, that he has not shown significant signs of progress in a Santa Clara Valley Center rehabilitation unit based on a numerical system of achievement. Therefore because they do not feel he is improving significantly enough the insurance company has said they will have Kevin out of the rehab unit by next Wednesday. The Williams family is filing an appeal.

You can help support Kevin’s medical costs by attending Donovan’s Pub Trivia on Monday, April 26, at 8 p.m. Trivia teams of up to six players can compete for prizes of $100 and $50, and players are encouraged to make donations throughout the night. Players can also write cards or record video messages to Kevin, Kathlin and the Williams family as well. Thank you for your support.

The following is the original article that appeared in this week’s Maroon-News.

744 students stood adjacent to Drake Hall on a cold, dreary August morning for the Class of 2010 picture four years ago, most wearing new white Colgate t-shirts commemorating their arrival to Hamilton for orientation. 634 students will graduate at Sanford Field House clad in black graduation gowns in mid-May, standing as one for the very last time.

A few faces appearing in that four-year-old picture will not be walking on the Sanford stage. Some of those original students dropped out of school. Others transferred. A couple took a year off and will graduate with the Class of 2011.

One of those students, Kevin Williams, currently sits in a hospital bed recovering from two malignant and inoperable medulloblastoma tumors. The larger tumor is in his brain stem, the smaller tumor located near his spinal cord. Originally, Kevin was diagnosed with a glioma, an incurable tumor. However, that diagnosis changed to a medulloblastoma; patients with the latter type have a much higher rate of survival.

Knowing that Kevin will not be walking the stage and accepting a graduation diploma with the rest of the class he began Colgate with conjures up a wide range of emotions.

It is harrowing. While students are currently learning last lessons before finals week, Kevin is re-learning how to chew, swallow and enunciate words.

It is frightening. Kevin was a completely healthy 21-year-old that avidly snowboarded and surfed before symptoms related to his tumor arose last year.

It is awful. Sickening. Depressing. Unfair.

“‘We were completely shocked’ does not even come close to covering it,” Kevin’s older sister Stacy said in regards to the moment when the Williams family was told of the initial glioma diagnosis. “I felt like I was falling down a dark, endless hole with nothing to grab onto except memories of when Kevin was healthy, which only confused me and made me more upset. We got the glioma diagnosis first, so that was an extra punch to our gut. It’s a big mental transition to go from convincing yourself that he will be okay, to trying to believe that he has a tumor that will end his life within a few years. Now that medulloblastoma is the diagnosis, his chances have improved. When we received that diagnosis, it seemed like a miracle. We just wanted Kevin to have a chance to fight this off and survive, and now he’s got it.”

There are a few words, however, that may better describe this whole ordeal later on, once Kevin is healthy and back at Colgate.

It is uplifting. Powerful. Emotional. Incredible.

These positive attributes stem from the incredible support Kevin and his family have received.

In sum, Kevin Williams’ recovery may have just as much to do with the power of love and support as the power of medicine.

This outpouring of encouragement received a huge boost when Stacy created a blog in early January called Kicking Kevin’s Cancer to update family, friends and strangers on his progress.

“We decided to create the blog because as soon as word of his diagnosis got out, Mom, Dad, Kathlin (Kevin’s girlfriend, also a Colgate senior) and I were bombarded with emails and phone calls, asking if we were okay, what the status was and if there was anything people could do to help,” Stacy said. “We appreciated all these thoughts and messages, but it was simply too much to handle to read through and reply to all of these – and when we replied, we noticed we kept saying the same thing, over and over again. I figured we could consolidate all of that communication on our part into a central area online – the blog. That way, we could keep all our friends and family up to date while also spending a lot of time helping to care for Kevin. Plus, we can keep many more people in the loop with the blog than we could if we were trying to communicate individually through emails and phone calls.”

Many readers in turn offered lines of support to Kevin and his family in the comments sections of these posts. Stacy’s blog later spawned a Facebook group (Kicking Kevin’s tumor) created by Kevin’s friend Romain Lazerand that acted more as a forum for anyone to drop a few lines. The blog has 19,500 hits and visitors from 37 countries; the Facebook group has over 1,130 members at last check. People who comment range from Kevin’s family, close friends and acquaintances to his sixth grade soccer coach and people he has never met.

“Kevin, [my tumor] was operable, but still required the chemo and radiation,” Kevin’s former soccer coach Jim Geesman wrote, “It’s no piece of cake but you just do it. Being young and strong and having all the love and support you have from your friends and family will help you carry through. Keep the faith and no matter how tough it gets, you just never give up.”

“Saw this on the wall of a friend,” John Allred said, “My two year old son just finished up six months of chemo, proton beam radiation and other treatment for ATRT brain cancer. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers. Know that you are going to meet some amazing individuals during this adventure. You will have an opportunity to be their hero, and they [are] some of your dearest friends… at least that has been our experience. God Bless!”

Stacy believes that the overwhelming encouragement has helped Kevin throughout the entire process.

“Messages, cards, pictures, CDs, posters, etc. from friends and family give Kevin much-needed pushes of motivation,” Stacy said, “Some messages even draw a smile, which has been a rare incident on Kevin’s face lately. Colgate students, faculty, administration, staff and even alumni who reach out to Kevin remind him of the place, environment and community he loves. This definitely fuels his drive to get well enough to return to Colgate.”

Currently, Stacy has just arrived back to graduate school at University of California-San Diego, while Kevin’s parents and Kathlin stay with him at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in California. They too have been inundated with support as well.

“Support from friends, family and even people we don’t know has been amazingly helpful,” Stacy said, “A kind word, hug, cookie – anything, really – can derail our negative thoughts and remind us that there is more kindness and fairness in the world than there is in the situation we happen to be stuck in. Support from other people bolsters us up and allows us to continue to support Kevin in whatever ways we can, day after day.”

Kevin has made much progress, perhaps coincidentally (or not) after the creation of the Facebook group. He was moved out of the Intensive Care Unit within the same 24-hour period as the creation of the group on the first day of March. Just four days later, as people began posting on the group’s wall, Kevin’s radiation therapy ended. Two weeks later Kevin’s tracheostomy was removed, and he then moved to a Santa Clara Valley rehabilitation unit. Progress is largely steady there, and the best news came this Monday.

“Chemotherapy did start [Monday] night,” Stacy said. “He takes the pill at night so he can ‘sleep it off.’ The night went well – only a bit of nausea. Aside from adding this chemotherapy drug, the list of medications that he’s on is slowly getting shorter, which is great. He’s getting a tiny bit stronger every day, and his speech is getting more clear.”

Stacy also had a comment as to what people can do to get Kevin through the last stages of his fight.

“Keep Kevin’s smiles coming! Post an inspiring message, a hello, or an entertaining story on the blog, the Facebook group or his Facebook page. Sign the card for Kevin at Relay for Life on campus. Keep the lines of communication from Colgate open, because it drives him forward …We are continually impressed with Colgate’s community, which often feels like an extended family. Thank you so much for all the kindness and support you’ve been sending Kevin’s and our way.”

I guess there is no smooth or easy way to transition to what I’m about to say.

I have lived with a benign brain tumor for over five years. More specifically, a prolactinoma protrudes from my pituitary gland, located on the brain’s hypothalamus. Before it was diagnosed, the symptoms ranged from daily headaches and worsened peripheral vision to an anemic testosterone level ten times lower than the average male my age, which gradually deteriorated my physical state during my sophomore and junior years of high school and left me with a gnawing sense of fatigue I couldn’t shake.

But aside from these physical symptoms, there are mental ones that a patient with my diagnosis has to cope with. One of these is having to undergo bothersome MRIs, which for me are as routine as brushing my teeth. Take off my glasses and remove everything metal. Change into a green hospital gown. Wait for the nurse to insert an IV. Lie down in a future-age space tube for 45 minutes. Don’t move. Listen to the MRI make gurgling electronic noises. Wait for the nurse to remove the IV. Change out from the green hospital gown. Go home.

Taking part in this mandatory monotony was just a little different on the Monday after Christmas last year. While my symptoms have been largely quelled for five years, I began getting weekly headaches last semester and felt more fatigued than usual, leading to a somewhat urgent MRI when I got back home for break. Being a little on edge, I noticed a small situation occurring as I packed up to go home. A red-haired boy named Nicky about half my size and age was wearing a hospital gown, presumably awaiting or coming out from an MRI. That was odd at the time, because I have been getting MRI’s for five years and have never seen anyone younger than me get one at the same time, let alone someone that looked no older than ten.

However, that fact alone wasn’t startling. As I walked out of the MRI lobby, his clearly annoyed and exasperated mother was kneeling down and berating him for whatever reason, yelling that he was driving her up a wall.

I still think about that all the time. It’s not every day that a 10-year-old kid has to undergo an MRI. Was Nicky’s mother nervous for her child and just suffering a mental lapse or just cold-hearted? I hope the former. However, as I walked out and found my own mother – who has been dealing with much personal strife of her own – I didn’t just see the woman that was nice enough to give me lifts to the New York City hospital for five years anymore. I saw the person who essentially dragged me through the last five years of my life while struggling to get through hers. That type of selflessness and benevolence isn’t something you see every day. It was at that moment that I began to realize how lucky I was to receive the love and support my mother gave me.

My mom almost single-handedly helped me through difficult times. If that’s possible, imagine the power of what everyone in a unified Colgate community, or whoever happens to be reading this article, can do for Kevin Williams. If you’re reading this, put down the paper, go online and offer Kevin, Stacy, Kathlin and the rest of his family a line of support on the blog and Facebook page. Stay updated with his progress. Say a prayer or keep him in your thoughts. Read the blog daily. Spread the word. Play Donovan’s Pub trivia on Monday, April 26, which will be held in Kevin’s honor. Keep other people in mind that are fighting cancer by participating in Relay for Life tomorrow and Saturday at Sanford Field House. Do whatever you can to get Kevin back in school and help his family through the next stages of his recovery.

The Class of 2010 will leave Colgate on May 16 having changed and grown much from the groggy and naïve first-years originally in that picture on the Drake Hall hill four years ago. However, for those that know Kevin or are aware of this story, one of the most important lessons that they will take away from this school won’t be learned in any textbook: The power of love and support can cure all, and in Kevin’s case, it can kick cancer. 

Contact Paul Kasabian at [email protected]