04/16/07 — Relay for Life youth chairman leads with his example of courage

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Relay for Life youth chairman leads with his example of courage

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on April 16, 2007 2:01 PM

Standing at about 3-feet tall with a boyish smile, Caleb Whitfield doesn't fully understand what it means to be a chairman.

After all, he's only 7.

For the first time, Wayne County's Relay for Life will have a child as its honorary chairman and Caleb has been chosen for that honor. He said he was happy to be selected.

Caleb was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood, in 2002 when he was almost 3.

He underwent chemotherapy and was in isolation for about six months because the drugs killed good cells in his body in addition to the cancer cells.

"They were giving him three kinds at one time," said his mother, Crystal, a teacher at Southern Wayne High School. "At first, he was going two times a week to Greenville and they would put IVs in him. One time, it took eight tries to get it in his hands then they finally had to put it in his foot."

A couple of months later, the doctor put a portacath in Caleb to make giving the chemo easier. He had to have a spinal tap every three months to make sure no cancer cells had formed in his brain.

Once a month, Caleb had to stay at the hospital for 24 hours for a slow chemo drip, his mother said. But he dealt with the treatments well.

The treatments lasted 2 1/2 years, and Caleb has been in remission about two years.

His mother explained that back in the early 70s, for the type of leukemia Caleb had, there was only a 50 percent survival rate.

"Because of research, by the time Caleb was diagnosed, that had climbed to 80 percent," she said. "Just because of events like the Relay, it's come that far."

Caleb and his family have participated in the Relay for Life in past years. His father, Graham, a teacher at Brogden Middle School, said it's an important part of their lives.

"It's important so others don't have to go through what we had to," he said. "Cancer is a financial burden as well as a family burden."

Crystal said that every penny raised to go toward research "brings us one step closer to hopefully one day never having to worry about cancer."

In honor of Caleb, the Zion Marchers of Zion United Methodist Church of Mount Olive are holding a Ride For A Cure on April 21.

It will start at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. Registration is at 9 a.m. and the ride gets under way at 11 a.m. Riders will go from the state park to Mount Olive to Goldsboro and end at the park.

The fee is $15 per single rider or $20 per couple. A barbecue lunch is included in the fee.

There will also be a bike show with trophies for the best bikes.

The goal is to get at least 300 bikers in the ride.

To register or for more information, call 658-5035, 658-4212 or 252-569-2541.

Proceeds go to the Relay for Life.