When cancer strikes a child—especially part of the LIVESTRONG/Oakley family—as it did Tyler Blick, then 5—it's instantly clear help takes many forms.
Sometimes a fever isn't just a fever. So when Tyler Blick, then 4, of Mission Viejo, Calif., seemed fatigued one day in June and spiked an unusual summer fever—one that lasted eight days, under his pediatrician's watchful eye—his mother, Jen, and father, Steve, a marketing manager at Oakley, took him to the hospital near their home for extra tests. For over two weeks, the new doctors suspected post-viral neutropenia (low white blood cell count), but his counts did not improve. Despite all the tests (plus the fact that Jen has a lab-strewn, scientific background as a geologist), they weren't thinking "cancer."
Then the ground shook. The next day, after a bone marrow test, a doctor came into Tyler's room and told Steve she had the results (he'd returned early from his business trip to the Tour de France) and asked him "if Jen was around. I said, 'Does she need to be?' They asked me to get Jen on the phone."
Steve remembers feeling scared and frustrated that he was alone, and that there wasn't a phone in the room where doctor led him. He had to hold his cell phone up in the air—on speaker—so that Jen, at home with their 3-year-old daughter, Kira, could hear the diagnosis. On July 13, 2010, Tyler was diagnosed with ALL, or acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of childhood blood and bone marrow cancer. He turned 5 in August.
"Oakley has been a supporter of LIVESTRONG and I have been in the front row doing what I can to push the message to create awareness about [fighting] cancer," says Steve. "I never thought it would touch my life, then…BAM! It smacked me upside the head."
Approximately 5,300 new cases of ALL will be diagnosed this year in the U.S., according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (leukemia-lymphoma.org). ALL is the most common type of leukemia among children, although people of any age can develop it. The society also reports that most children with ALL are cured of their disease.
"I tend to look at things as half-full," Steve says, "and I see that glass as half-full. In my years as an athlete, I was always challenged to win. Now we're challenged [as a family]."
In the initial treatment phase (the goal: remission), Tyler will receive a combination of drugs for approximately six months. Plans—drawn up at the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children's Hospital San Diego— then call for a typical follow-up treatment for three to three and a half years, to kill any possible lurking cells. Fortunately, Jen says, her parents (and her childhood home) are situated within four miles of Rady Children's, which brings comfort and a sense of support. The hospital is more than an hour and a half (each way) from the Blicks' Southern California home.
"The 'new normal,'" says Steve, "is JUST HAVING EVERYONE UNDER ONE ROOF and not in a hospital."
Over the next few months, because Tyler's immune system will be compromised due to the cancer and treatment, Jen and Steve will aim to keep his environs as germ free as possible. The Blicks also will start homeschooling.
"My way to de-stress is to be outside," Jen offers, "working in my rose bushes and in the garden the kids and I planted in the backyard. On a typical day at clinic, we leave with the kids at seven in the morning and don't return till six at night."
And as most families touched by cancer can attest, there aren't as many "typical" days as might have been first foreseen. "The 'new normal,'" says Steve, "is just having everyone under one roof and not in a hospital."
For Steve, his bike has served as his main tool for stress relief. "When things get tough, I put my energy into the pedals and push beyond normal pain thresholds." The family "team" has grown to include Jen's parents and brothers, all of whom dropped their daily routines this summer to help give the Blicks much-needed early support. "This was great," says Steve, "as it gave me the feeling of getting another chance at growing our family bond tighter." Steve's parents also pitched in big time.
In August, when Taylor Phinney, 20, a friend of the Blick family, made his pro cycling debut with Team RadioShack at the Tour of Denmark, he rode with a custom decal that read, "I Ride for Tyler Blick" (see LIVESTRONG.com/teamradioshack/news_ taylorphinney-rides-for-tyler-blick/). Lance Armstrong called the Blicks from the Tour de France to offer support when he heard the news; Mark Cavendish dedicated his Champs-Élysées stage win to Tyler. And mountain bike racing champ Brian Lopes, in late August, dedicated his fifth downhill victory to Tyler on his fifth birthday.
Also in August, Tyler's first biopsies after initial treatment came back looking good. Meantime, blood tests showed the cancer retreating.
"Tyler is doing well with his treatments and winning the battle," says Steve. But he and Jen realize the fight will stretch for years. Due to immunity concerns and vigilance against possible infection, Tyler will not be able to have playdates for a while. Truth is, it might get a bit lonely at times. But the Blicks will be anything but alone.
Article first published Fall 2010 in LIVESTRONG Magazine