Breast cancer survivor offers wisdom at Faulkner satellite center
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It's not difficult to find Nick Frith as he waits in the Jimmy Fund Clinic with his parents, Lynn and Bob: he's the 13-year-old boy dressed almost entirely in Boston Red Sox apparel. Fortunately, this visit to Dana-Farber does not involve treatment. He has traveled from his home in Taunton, Mass. to receive a checkup and give back to the Dana-Farber community by sharing the story of his recent battle with brain cancer. Now in remission, Nick aims to spend more time at Fenway Park and less time at the hospital when in Boston.
Nick loves sports, but he is more than just an athlete. He achieved honor roll all four terms during his treatment, and enjoys solving complex Sudoku puzzles. The mental challenges keep Nick busy while he's not out on the field - or, when he's receiving chemotherapy for a brain tumor. "The puzzles were fun because I could play them while being connected to all those wires," says Nick. Although he doesn't rule out baseball as a profession, Nick's plan for the future is to be an electrician like his older brother.
His story began in the summer of 2006, as he was finishing up his Little League baseball season. "I started feeling really tired all the time," recalls the 8th grader. "Sometimes I would throw up and not know why." Labor Day weekend, Nick was admitted to Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton where doctors ordered an MRI of his head. The following week would change his life forever.
When the MRI showed a small mass, Nick and his family immediately went to Children's Hospital Boston, where he underwent surgery that same week. The mass was diagnosed as a mixed germ cell brain tumor. "Everything happened so quickly," recalls Nick's mom. Nick spent the remainder of his school year going through six rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of daily radiation, and many x-rays at Dana-Farber and Children's Hospital Boston, his new part-time home right near his favorite team's stadium.
Although the Friths were already Red Sox fans when they came to Dana-Farber, they developed a strong affinity for the Jimmy Fund Clinic as well. "As soon as we got to the clinic we knew we were in good hands," says Nick's dad. "Everyone was so committed to helping Nick in any way possible."
One way Dana-Farber assisted him was to have a psychologist through the Back to School Program visit his school to talk with students about cancer. "It was such a relief for Nick," says Nick's mom. "I didn't feel like I had to explain myself over and over," he adds.
As a way of giving back, Nick volunteered to be a patient partner for the Stop & Shop Triple Winner Game, a fundraiser that benefits the Stop & Shop Family Pediatric Brain Tumor Clinic at Dana-Farber. "Nick is a remarkable young man who has managed the ups and downs of his illness very well," says his doctor, Christopher Turner, MD.
Although Nick is currently in remission, he'll continue to visit Dana-Farber for checkups, blood work, and MRIs of his brain and spine, once every three months for a year, easing into annual visits after two years. "During this two-year transition phase, we focus on tumor surveillance to make sure the cancer doesn't return," explains Turner. "As time passes, we worry less about the tumor coming back, and more about possible long-term effects such as learning changes or growth and development problems. It is very important for patients like Nick to continue coming to our clinic for annual checkups, because if we see the subtle beginnings of such problems, we can intervene."
"Despite how lucky we've been, it's still hard not to wonder whether the cancer is going to come back," says Lynn Frith. But one thing the family has learned from Nick's experience is to take things slowly. "You can't be worrying all the time about something that might happen down the road," says Bob Frith.
"You need to take one day a time," advises Nick, who knows how to keep his priorities straight, whether it's one day at a time at Dana-Farber or one game at a time at Fenway.
— Jason Brander