By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer
There’s a genetic bug in the family tree of Portales’ Joe Fletcher, so he is quite aware the cancerous disease known as osteosarcoma could come up again.
The bone cancer has struck Fletcher’s grandmother, his uncle and his sister — who died as a result.
Most recently, though, it was his 9-year-old son Lance who was diagnosed with the condition.
Just over a year ago, when Joe was serving with his National Guard Unit in Afghanistan, cancer cells were found in Lance’s leg. The Fletchers — Joe, wife Carol and daughter Lindsey — went to Memphis, where Lance was accepted for treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Now Lance, although minus his hair, has completed his chemotherapy and is on the road to recovery.
Lance is also the current poster boy for St. Jude, his photograph being the cover of a quarterly magazine distributed by the research facility.
In the Summer 2009 issue of “Promise,” Lance’s story is told.
“It was cool,” said Lance of being featured in the magazine.
What you have to do to be featured in a periodical like that isn’t quite as cool. And, despite the expert care and comfort given by the St. Jude staff, Lance had some hard times getting through his treatment.
But the Fletchers believe being accepted by St. Jude was a blessing.
“It’s an amazing facility. You almost have to go there to experience it,” Carol Fletcher said.
“St. Jude’s focuses on the children in every way,” Joe said. “I remember, when we got there, they told her, ‘You’re no longer Carol — now you’re Lance’s mom.’”
Carol works at Eastern New Mexico University. Joe is a school teacher in Dora. That’s where Lance would normally be going to school, but the Fletchers said they were going to wait awhile.
“We’re still very cautious with Lance and his immune system,” Carol said.
The family estimates it’s been about three years since they’ve all lived under the same Portales roof. Before Lance’s leg was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, dad had already gone overseas to serve his military stint.
When Joe got word in Afghanistan, he was naturally taken aback — despite the family history.
“It’s just a shocker. Probably nothing hurts more than that, knowing one of your kids has something like that,” Joe said. “It’s obviously in our genes, but you never expect it, especially with little kids.”
Lance’s 12-year-old sister was like every other member of the family whose lives were turned upside-down by the rush to heal him.
“It was interesting, because you see all these kids in wheelchairs and on crutches,” said Lindsey Fletcher of the St. Jude’s facility. “It took awhile to get used to it.”
Only patients diagnosed with certain types of diseases are admitted to St. Jude, because it is a research hospital.
But getting an effective remedy, which the Fletchers believe has happened, isn’t the only benefit. They also don’t have to pay for any expenses beyond what their insurance covered.
It’s the highly-visible St. Jude fundraising campaigns held around the country year-round that enables the latter benefit.
As for Lance, who is still waiting for his hair to grow back, he maintains a positive outlook by saying an oft-repeated phrase around St. Jude:
“I’m not losing hair, I’m growing face,” Lance said.