MATTHEWS – Ten-year-old Drew Van Dyke has tasted freedom in more ways than one.
On Aug. 25 – Drew’s 10th birthday and the one-year anniversary of successfully completing radiation treatments for a malignant brain tumor – he and his pediatrician, Dr. Scott Spies, of Novant Health Matthews Children’s Clinic, participated in Ride for Kids – a charity ride that raises money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
Headquartered in Asheville, the ride takes place at various locations across the U.S. and has raised more than $12 million for Duke University’s Tisch Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation since its inception in 1984.
Drew and Spies participated in the Asheville ride, which began in Asheville and followed a route along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Chimney Rock and back. They mounted Spies’ motorcycle and joined nearly 500 bikes and several police escorts for the ride, which raised nearly $100,000 for brain tumor research.
Being on the back of a bike while viewing the scenery along the Blue Ridge Parkway and celebrating almost a year of being cancer free was a liberating experience, Drew said.
“It was really cool to be on the back of a motorcycle putting my head out, because you’re alive and you can do things like that and you’re cleared to do things like that,” he said.
But the road to freedom hasn’t been easy. On May 25, 2012, Drew and his family received news that rocked them: Drew had cancer. After suffering from double vision and numbness around his ankles, Drew went in for an MRI that showed a tumor in the middle of his brain, and he was subsequently diagnosed with pure germinoma.
Drew was immediately sent to Presbyterian Hospital in uptown Charlotte, now known as Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, and doctors spent the next days and weeks running tests and discussing options. They initially suspected he might have a second tumor toward the front of his brain, but tests showed it was merely bruised tissue from an injury he incurred as a preschooler.
After meeting with several doctors, Drew was ultimately sent to Duke University Medical Center to meet with a pediatric neuro-oncologist to further discuss treatment options. Because the tumor was located in the pineal region of the brain, the doctors couldn’t operate. Drew was presented with two options: chemotherapy treatments and a lower dosage of radiation treatments, or strictly radiation treatments at a higher level.
Drew and his family learned that no patients treated strictly with radiation within the past 10 years have had recurring brain tumors, which urged them to consider radiation without chemotherapy. But the deciding factor for Drew came when he learned chemotherapy could impair his ability to father his own children.
“The biggest emotional connection, the one thing that connected with him and made him cry, was the fact that he might not be able to have children,” Dawn Van Dyke, Drew’s mom, said.
In July 2012, Drew began a series of 30 radiation treatments – one treatment almost every weekday – and received his final treatment on the Friday before his ninth birthday. During his treatments, Drew and his family would travel to Durham each week and return to their home in Charlotte, just outside of Matthews, on the weekends.
Teammates from Drew’s baseball team at the Matthews Athletic & Recreation Association organized a fundraiser, which helped the family pay for treatments, hotel stays and fuel costs as they traveled each week.
On Oct. 4, 2012, Drew was officially cancer free. He returns every three months for follow up MRIs, but life is otherwise back to normal, and Drew has been able to resume the activities he loves – baseball, golf and playing outside.
He also had a great summer that included family trips to Hilton Head and Michigan and a Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii – where he got to swim with sea turtles and saw a “ton of barracuda” in a lagoon. And, of course, the summer culminated with Ride for Kids.
Spies, Drew’s pediatrician since he was born, called the ride a “powerful experience” that was “fun at the same time.”
“Knowing that he’d been through so much this year and, obviously, having seen him since birth, it made it that much closer to home,” Spies said. “… It’s kind of a fun way to celebrate a year of victory and by giving God the glory.”
Drew and his family agreed.
“It was an experience for all of us to see the life that happens after your diagnosis,” Dawn Van Dyke said.