RALEIGH — Swimming, bike riding and soccer are among the typical boyhood activities Bryce Washington has enjoyed throughout his young life.
Lately, however, the 11 year old has been spending lot of time at nightclubs, card parties and dance halls – talking about his experience with cancer.
“I usually go out at night,” Bryce said. “One night was an Ace of Spades party, and before that we went to Zumba.”
Bryce enjoys his evenings out, but also likes the idea of supporting an organization that helped his own family when he was diagnosed last year with acute lymphocytic leukemia. He was recently named 2013 Boy of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of the Triangle and has attended more than a dozen events on behalf of the organization this spring.
“He loves to do it,” said his mother, Stacy Washington, a nurse manager at Rex Hospital. “He enjoys going places and socializing.”
Bryce’s outgoing personality was one of the reasons he was chosen for the Boy of the Year honor, said Emily Blust, director of development for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. When young cancer survivors such as Bryce – and Triangle Girl of the Year Morgan Stone – show up at events, the cause hits home in a special way, Blust said.
“We like for the kids to be willing and able to talk about their own experiences, to share their stories,” Blust said. “In addition to helping us raise funds, they are priceless for raising awareness. Bryce has been helpful at all the events he’s attended.”
Stacy Washington said her son is comfortable talking about his cancer experience, which began when he was a fourth-grader at Durant Road Elementary School.
It was fall soccer season of 2011 when the pain first began.
“First it was in my shoulder, then my ankle, and then a lot of other joints,” Bryce said. “Pretty soon, I wasn’t able to do soccer anymore.”
He saw his pediatrician, then an orthopedist, then a physical therapist. Finally, after nearly six months and a full battery of tests at UNC Hospital – including a bone marrow biopsy – the diagnosis was cancer.
Preparing for treatment – which started in April 2012 – was nerve-wracking for Bryce.
“I just didn’t know what was going to happen; I was really nervous,” he recalled. As chemotherapy progressed, his energy waned.
“All I felt like doing was sitting on the couch, so I watched a lot of TV,” Bryce said.
Even his school lessons came on a video screen, as he connected with his classmates via Skype.
In February, Bryce was doing well enough to head back to the classroom, where he is now in fifth grade at Durant Road Elementary.
His treatment has gone well, and the cancer is in remission. But a relapse is possible, so Bryce will continue to receive chemotherapy through July 2015, his mother said.
Meanwhile, Bryce said he is happy to do what he can to help others who may be diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
More than 4,000 new cases of these cancers were diagnosed in North Carolina during 2012, Blust said.
Money raised through the agency’s spring fund drive will be used to assist families and to support cancer research. Blust said five-year survival rates for acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common form of childhood leukemia, already have gone from 4 percent in 1954 to about 90 percent today.
From Bryce’s viewpoint, the future looks bright.
What he would tell a friend or classmate facing a leukemia diagnosis today is pretty simple:
“Don’t give up. It gets better. It might seem like it’s not going to, but eventually, it does.”