Barnum runner isn’t running away from cancerStuart McCoy’s track teammates worked so hard at running laps for his benefit that the Barnum senior figured the least he could do was join them for one trip around the oval.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Stuart McCoy’s track teammates worked so hard at running laps for his benefit that the Barnum senior figured the least he could do was join them for one trip around the oval.
“I jogged one lap and just sort of crashed,” he said Thursday after a Run-A-Thon fundraiser in his name at Barnum High School.
The former distance runner can be excused for not continuing: In February, after months of tests and hospital visits, McCoy was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, an extremely rare and fast-spreading brain cancer.
In mid-November, the energetic 17-year-old began suffering severe headaches as well as leg and back pain. Numerous CAT scans and MRI exams failed to reveal the cause, though doctors at Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, believing the problem was hydrocephalus, inserted a shunt to divert fluid from his brain to other areas of his body in December.
After initial relief, McCoy awoke the morning of Jan. 28 with uncontrollable tremors to his left leg. Tests at Mercy Medical Center in Moose Lake showed bleeding on the brain, but a subsequent battery of tests at Children’s Medical Center in Minneapolis didn’t explain why or how McCoy had lost the function of his leg.
Two weeks later he woke up with seizures on the left side of his body. Another CAT scan revealed more brain swelling so he was transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul, where surgeons removed a quarter-size tumor from his brain Feb. 12.
“The scariest part was that it wasn’t in any of the previous scans,” said Carol Youngberg, his mother. “So it grew from nothing to the size of a quarter in about a month.”
Doctors determined the tumor was melanoma and found melanoma seedlings growing on the lining that covers his brain and spine and three nodules on his spine.
McCoy underwent aggressive radiation to his brain and spine for 12 days in March and chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments as well.
“We’re never going to know if he had a spot on his skin and it moved to his brain or it started in his brain and moved to his spine,” his mother said.
If the former, then McCoy’s lifespan could be as little as one year.
“We just don’t know right now,” Youngberg said.
One wouldn’t know by talking to the soft-spoken McCoy. He doesn’t offer a hint of the danger he’s facing.
“I don’t worry as much as everybody else does,” he said. “When these things happen to you, it’s not as hard as if it happened to somebody close to you. You don’t worry about yourself as much as you worry about others when they get sick.”
That’s typical, those close to him say.
“One thing he does not want is the ‘Poor me’ or pity look,” said Barnum girls track coach Patty Jerde, who coached the boys team the previous two years. “The minute people show him pity, he gets upset. He wants everyone to treat him like they did before and move on with life. He’s amazing to me.”
Jerde calls McCoy a role model; his mother says he’s handling the situation better than anyone else in the family.
“He’s a tough kid,” Youngberg said. “If he can get through this, there’s absolutely nothing in this world that’s going to make him an unhappy person. If he can go through this and not be miserable and feel sorry for himself, there’s nothing he can’t do.”
Still, to lighten the mood, Stuart’s seven siblings and mother and stepfather, Robin, poke fun at him.
“You’ve got to have humor in your life,” McCoy said.
McCoy, who is originally from suburban Dallas, moved to Sandstone as a youngster and then to Barnum midway through kindergarten. He started running track in eighth grade, but since the onset of his cancer he has served as captain and team manager.
“His dedication to the sport of track has been inspiring for the younger kids,” Jerde said. “To see somebody so fragile, yet there and doing whatever he can is inspirational.”
That’s why people were at Barnum on a rainy Thursday, donating money for each lap run by the athletes. That’s why the runners ran as long as they could. And that’s why McCoy joined them for one lap.
“It went a lot better than I thought it would,” McCoy said. “All the runners were out there trying their hardest and most of them made it farther than we thought they could.
“I would never have thought that this much support could have come from such a small town.”
* Donations to help defray Stuart’s medical and travel expenses can be sent via checks made out to Barnum Track Activities to Barnum High School, 3675 County Road 140, Barnum, MN 55707-0227. Donations also can be made to the Johnathan Stuart McCoy account at any Wells Fargo Bank.