Trinity senior convinced hell beat rare cancer

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 31, 2006

How could this happen? How could a teenager who is in the top physical shape of his life, has the whole world ahead of him and has not vices be stricken with a disease commonly associated with adults 30 or 40 years older?

How in the world could Kyle Dunaway have cancer?

It&8217;s been over a month since his diagnosis. The Trinity Episcopal football and baseball standout was diagnosed with cancer at the end of January, and folks close to him and his family are still scratching their heads.

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X-rays and tests proved it to be true. But some are still trying to come to grips with the reality that cancer indeed plays no favorites.

&8220;He&8217;s so strong, healthy and young,&8221; Trinity Head of School Delecia Carey said. &8220;He&8217;s in such good shape physically, and that&8217;s really going to help. Nobody could conceive it was cancer. It surely had to be something else. Sure enough, it was cancer.&8221;

The reaction to the diagnosis &8212; as only the word cancer can do when it comes from your doctor&8217;s mouth &8212; sent shock waves through his family, his school and his hometown. Everyone has come to the family&8217;s aid while Dunaway has undergone numerous tests and the first round of chemotherapy.

There have been numerous prayers, hugs and tears. Support has come from outside of Natchez, the state and even the country.

Yet Dunaway, as Trinity coaches have told him throughout his high school career, has been the total opposite. There&8217;s no doubt in his mind the tumor that&8217;s lodged between his eighth and ninth rib will be no problem and that he&8217;ll fall in line with other cancer survivors since doctors found the tumor early.

It&8217;s the people around him, it seems, who could use some of that support.

During a gathering at Parkway Baptist Church when pastor Bart Walker called everyone down to gather about the news, there was only one set of dry eyes in the building.

They belonged to Kyle Dunaway.

&8220;If there&8217;s anybody who can lick it, it&8217;s going to be him,&8221; said Trinity head coach David King, who fought back tears describing Dunaway during last week&8217;s National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame banquet. &8220;He&8217;s just so non-chalant about everything. Maybe it&8217;s good that he&8217;s that young. In his mind, he&8217;s thinking, &8216;There&8217;s no way this thing is going to beat me. I&8217;ve been running hills since the ninth grade. There&8217;s no way.&8217;&8221;

That&8217;s why this story doesn&8217;t make sense. But if there&8217;s one thing that will be perfectly understandable by the time Dunaway will say he is a cancer survivor, it&8217;s that he&8217;ll be the same ol&8217; Dunaway.

Except, of course, he&8217;ll have a sizeable head start on the rest of the class when he starts medical school.

&8220;I was scared, but it was like it didn&8217;t hit me like it should,&8221; Dunaway said. &8220;I&8217;m not really that worried about it. I don&8217;t look like I have it. I feel like I&8217;m the exact same person before I had it.

&8220;People are treating me different, but I don&8217;t like a whole lot of attention. I&8217;ve told (my friends) to treat me normal, and they have. I appreciate that.&8221;

Diagnosis: cancer

Dunaway&8217;s mom, Amy, a nurse at Natchez Community Hospital, can remember to the day her oldest son came to her about a pain he was having in his chest. On Jan. 10 Kyle told her something wasn&8217;t right.

He couldn&8217;t eat and was having pain in his chest. Doctors thought it might have been mono. That night he wound up in the emergency room, and two days later he was en route to a hospital in Jackson.

Doctors sent the blood test off and did X-rays. On one of the sheets the doctors found a little tiny object that just didn&8217;t seem right. It was lodged in his rib wall, and they were merely concerned about it.

Tests proved it was a tumor three to eight centimeters long: Ewing&8217;s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer commonly found in those ages 10 to 20.

&8220;The doctor said he was concerned but not worried about it,&8221; Dunaway said. &8220;He really didn&8217;t think it was anything. They finally told me I had cancer and I could go home. He would let us know about the tumor. It&8217;s a pretty rare bone cancer.&8221;

Dunaway and his parents came back to Natchez and met with Dr. Jack Rodriguez about their next step, and he recommended they check in at St. Jude Children&8217;s Research Hospital in Memphis to attack the tumor and determine the best way to beat it.

That&8217;s when the disbelief &8212; and the shock &8212; started to kick in.

&8220;That kept coming into my mind,&8221; Amy said. &8220;I never thought it would be this. You always think of the worst. It&8217;s the curse of the nurse &8212; you know too much. But it could have been dormant up to six years. It&8217;s just a miracle God let us find it.

&8220;I&8217;ve been in shock. I&8217;ve had about two days where I haven&8217;t cried. Seeing how well he&8217;s taken things and handled the treatment has helped me.&8221;

Doctors there set up a schedule for rounds of chemotherapy for a year. Ewing&8217;s sarcoma requires chemo treatment to the entire body since there may be evidence the tumor has spread.

Kyle underwent 48 hours of chemo three weeks ago. He&8217;ll start his second round this weekend with surgery scheduled for March 28 when doctors will go in and remove the eighth and ninth ribs.

&8220;One thing (we&8217;re worried about) is seeing how he responds to the continuation of this chemo,&8221; said his dad, Chris. &8220;I don&8217;t know if it&8217;s going to gradually wear him down. And anything can happen when surgery rolls around. When (chemo) first started, he didn&8217;t have enough strength to pick his head up off his pillow.

&8220;We have a strong faith in the Lord. We&8217;re putting it in his hands.&8221;

Same ol&8217; Dunaway

The hardest part of the whole ordeal, Chris said, was doctors telling Dunaway he couldn&8217;t play baseball his senior season at Trinity. That was something he&8217;s done since he was 5, and he was to be one of the key players on the team returning this spring.

But he got a second opinion from Dr. Rodriguez, and he cleared him to play as long as he wasn&8217;t tired or it didn&8217;t get too cold. Dunaway got in the game at Central Private Saturday and drove in two runs with a double before the game was rained out.

But true to his mantra of not wanting any extra attention, he turned down an offer to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of Monday&8217;s game at home against Silliman.

He returned to school this week. Students at Trinity are making plans to create a Relay for Life chapter at the school. They will also hold a field day, disco dance and sell T-shirts to help raise money for Dunaway&8217;s treatment.

When he went ahead and shaved his head in preparation for the full effects of chemotherapy, friends Tripp Bryant and Clinton Pomeroy shaved their heads as well.

&8220;It hit the school hard,&8221; Trinity senior Jessica Marchbanks said. &8220;A lot of us have been here since kindergarten or third grade. He calls and keeps us posted. I think we&8217;re all going to make a road trip up there and go see him.&8221;

Dunaway got a call from San Diego Padres pitcher Jake Peavy, and the two now text message each other. Peavy told him of a bullpen catcher who beat cancer and is now back with the team.

He wants to keep things just the same as they were before Jan. 10, and he&8217;s even two pounds heavier now than he was before he began chemo. But cancer changes people around you and your outlook on life, and he knows that.

&8220;You notice things you don&8217;t see,&8221; Dunaway said. &8220;Just going through everyday life, you pass by things so fast. You notice how people actually do care about you. It really shows.&8221;

Chris and Amy found that out real fast. The family is on prayer lists around the country and even in Guatemala. It&8217;s been humbling, they say, to see how much support they&8217;ve received during a time where it seemed so hard to accept what was happening.

&8220;(Kyle) tells me, &8216;Life&8217;s tough. Get a helmet,&8217;&8221; Amy said. &8220;He&8217;d look over and see me crying and say, &8216;Mom, get a helmet.&8217; I&8217;ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. There are things that are more important. I can definitely feel prayers have been answered. I&8217;ve seen them answered.&8221;

And if he has one more word of advice, it&8217;s that he&8217;ll beat this. He can&8217;t answer the questions why or how he got it, and he refuses to feel sorry for himself. By this time next year, he&8217;ll tell you, he&8217;ll be the same person he always was.

And so will everyone else.

&8220;He&8217;s the type that doesn&8217;t want all this extra attention,&8221; Chris said. &8220;He&8217;s been totally positive. That&8217;s his attitude. He&8217;s just going about his business and trying to get through it.&8221;