Posted: December 5, 2014
18 Years Old at Diagnosis
In many ways, Nick Raitt was a typical college student. He loved sports, especially hockey, dirt bike racing, camping, kayaking and wrangling horses on trips to Moab, Utah. He also enjoyed movie comedies, including, “Dumb and Dumber,” “Jackass” and anything with Will Ferrell. However, in other ways, often untypical for someone his age, he was kind, compassionate, and wise beyond his years.
It was Valentine’s Day in 2007 and Nick was playing basketball with his friends. After taking an unfortunate and unintentional elbow to the eye, the area just above his right cheek became puffy. A couple of weeks passed with no improvement so a trip to his physician, dentist and eye doctor was in order. All found nothing.
By April, the swelling was increasing. Knowing that he about to embark on a cruise with his dad and two sisters, he decided to wait to follow-up with his physician. During the cruise, however, Nick developed double vision. He went to the doctor for a scan immediately after returning home which revealed a tumor the size of a baseball in his sinus/cheek area. A subsequent biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma — a very rare cancer found mostly in children. It was classified as stage four due to the size and at least one malignant lymph node.
Fear numbed and paralyzed Nick’s family. The terminology used by the doctors made it difficult to understand what was going on. Everything was overwhelming. Within 24 hours, Nick underwent a slew of tests: bloodwork, bone marrow biopsy and a spinal tap. The hospital admitted him for treatment comprised of three different chemotherapies.
Chemotherapy treatment for the first year consisted of one week in and two weeks out of the hospital along with 26 radiation treatments. After 12 rounds of chemo, doctors thought there was still active cancer in his sinuses and recommended a partial maxillectomy — a surgery removing his upper jaw and teeth.
Nick decided to have a surgeon at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute do a clean-up surgery in his sinuses. If the doctor found cancer, he would go ahead with the maxillectomy. A collection of nine different biopsy samples came back negative, and as of April 2008, Nick was officially cancer-free!
Remission lasted for one wonderful year. In April of 2009, the cancer came back in his pancreas. For the next two years, he was in and out of the hospital. He eventually earned his angel wings in June 2011.
No matter how difficult life became during his treatments, Nick never complained and always said please and thank you to the entire staff — housekeepers, nurses, aides, doctors—everyone. He never asked about statistics or his chances of survival. Most importantly, he continually gave back to the children’s cancer community by organizing softball tournaments and events for his new organization, WACKY (Warriors Against Cancer in Kids and Young-adults).
In an interview for a mini-documentary during his recovery, Nick said “Some people will ask, ‘Why me?’ but what we should be asking is ‘Now that I have cancer, what can I do to help others?'” Nick’s family support of CureSearch is how we can help others.
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