Young and courageous
Ron Gower/TIMES NEWS Hunter Wolfe, 12, of Jim Thorpe is one of the "Courage Award" recipients this year of the Carbon-Schuylkill Unit of the American Cancer Society. With him is his mother, Kimberly Sargent.
Every year the Carbon-Schuylkill Unit of the American Cancer Society presents "Courage Awards" to three cancer victims, giving them recognition for their optimism and determination in coping with the illness.
Among the recipients this year is Hunter Kurak Wolfe, a 12-year-old Jim Thorpe lad who has acute lymphocytic leukemia, that's coupled with an incredibly positive attitude which belies his small stature.
The youth will be receiving his "Courage Award" during the annual ACS telethon on Blue Ridge Communications TV 13. The telethon is from noon to midnight on April 9 and 10 with the awards presented on the 10th between 7 and 8 p.m.
Hunter is the son of of Kimberly Sargent of Jim Thorpe and Tony Wolfe also of Jim Thorpe. He is a seventh-grade student at St. Joseph's Regional Academy in Jim Thorpe, although he hasn't attended classes since he was diagnosed in October. He's getting home schooling, even though he spends weeks at a time in St. Christopher's Hospital in Philadelphia.
He will be getting chemotherapy for three years. His mouth is sore and he has a feeding tube to eat so that he retains his weight and strength.
Still, he has made the proverbial lemonade out of his lemon, stating, "There are perks to having leukemia."
He said he got to meet members of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, including coach Andy Reid, quarterback Michael Vick, and wide receiver DeSean Jackson at an "Eagles Fly for Leukemia" dinner.
He was befriended by Holy Cross basketball player Andrew Keiser, a 6-foot-9-inch starting center who, when he was 8 years old, battled the same type of leukemia that Hunter has. Keiser is a nephew of Joe Shigo of Lansford.
The basketball standout has sent Hunter "a bunch of things," he said, including a Holy Cross beanie and a basketball signed by team members.
In addition, Keiser has convinced Hunter that this type of cancer can be conquered.
Hunter has a brother, Carter, 10; a sister, Olivia, 8; a stepbrother, James Sargent, 6, and a stepsister, Madison Sargent, 3.
He said his hobbies include fishing, golf, basketball, and football. He's a member of the St. Joseph's Regional Basketball Team in the CYO league and had been the leader with assists at the time he was forced to leave the team after being diagnosed.
His teammates supported him by all wearing his "number 3" and also by wearing orange, the color for childhood leukemia. Hunter's basketball jersey was on the bench for each game.
It was on Oct. 10 that he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. The diagnosis was unexpected, considering just a month before he had blood work done and received a clean bill of health.
His mother noted that in early September, he complained about some pains, a throbbing headache, and feeling lightheaded. He visited a pediatrician on Sept. 11.
On Sept. 16, he was back at the doctor, who said there was nothing wrong; that it was just "growing pains."
In October, lightheadness returned while he was in school. Kimberly, who is a nurse in the St. Luke's Health Network, took him to St. Luke's Miners Memorial Medical Center, where it was believed Hunter might be suffering from mononucleosis.
The blood work, though, indicated he had leukemia.
Kimberly chose St. Christopher's Hospital for treatment since it is part of the St. Luke's network.
"It was pretty hard to deal with," she said of her own feelings when the diagnosis occurred. "I learned though, through Hunter, that anything can make you better in life. Even something this bad."
She praised the "great attitude" of her son.
Kimberly admitted that after diagnosis, you second guess yourself and wonder if there is something that could have been done to detect the cancer sooner.
She discussed this with an oncologist who assured her, "Cancer doesn't come out until it wants to come out. You can't find it no matter how hard you try."
Hunter admitted that at one time, his dream was to become a professional basketball player. Since he has leukemia, he has been exposed to many other professions, especially in the medical field. Of his future profession, he said, "I don't know what I want to be. I'm really open-minded."
He'll be taking chemotherapy until October 2013. As a result, he spends a lot of time watching television. He especially enjoyed this year's NCAA college basketball tournament and admitted he found a "fun pool" that he was able to enter for 25-cents. He picked San Diego State to win the national title, playing in the championship against Purdue.
Chemotherapy lowers blood platelets so he can't do much physically because it suppresses bone marrow which makes it easier for injuries. He also must be cautious not to be exposed to people with illnesses.
One of the toughest things he had to endure was being hospitalized over Christmas. At the hospital, his mother and father take turns staying with him.
Hunter admits that with leukemia, you can't think too far ahead. His mother agreed, noting that for Christmas a gathering of family and friends was planned. Instead, at 3 a.m. Christmas Eve, he got sick and had to be taken to the hospital.
Kimberly said not only are the effects of the illness tough on Hunter's schedule, "it's huge for the other kids, too. They know that not only is their brother sick, but that a parent might not be home because of being at the hospital."
Still, the siblings are a big help, said Kimberly. They're also dedicated to Hunter. Carter shaved his head when he learned Hunter would be losing his strawberry blonde hair.
The thing Hunter hates most about having cancer are the trips to Philadelphia. Still, his mother said, "He never puts up a fuss. Not once."
"The most amazing thing is that he's a fighter," said Kimberly.
She said one of the things which keeps his spirits high is the community support that you get in a small town, not just in Jim Thorpe, but the entire area. She said at the Ronald McDonald House, when she talks to other parents of children with cancer, they are so impressed by the outpouring of support Hunter has received.
Kimberly remarked, "The hardest thing is seeing your child sick, and I guess if you think about that, when you hear it, you want to take their place. But realistically, you can't. So you have to take a passenger seat. Being a nurse, that's very hard. Being a nurse, I'm the one usually delivering that news to patients. Now, receiving the news, that's something you never want to experience, especially when it's your child."
Hunter said his advice to anyone experiencing illness is , "Keep a positive mind. It will get you through it."