Cassville teen continues battle with brain cancer

Thursday, July 31, 2008
Crystal Patrick

Since Crystal Patrick was diagnosed with medulblastoma cancer at the age of 13, the Cassville teen has undergone three surgeries to remove tumors in her brain and battled through countless rounds of grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

In February of this year, the 19-year-old defied the odds again and successfully completed a stem cell transplant. This procedure involves removing stem cells from the patient and freezing them. Crystal's stem cells were removed in October of 2007 and then put back into her body four months later. Prior to reintroducing the stem cells, Crystal underwent five days of high dose chemo to kill all the "good and bad" blood cells.

"It takes a full year to get the cells mature enough to where your body's immune system is at a normal level," said Crystal's mom, Kim. "Crystal has had to have transfusions periodically but her counts have been holding their own now for the last month and a half."

In June, with Crystal's immune system rebounding back to normal, another MRI was performed to check the status of her cancer. It was during this scan, that Crystal's oncologists at St. Louis Children's Hospital discovered a new tumor in her brain. This one is located on the base of the cerebellum.

According to Kim, the doctors have now labeled her daughter's cancer as "chemo-resistant" and have yet to decide on the next course of treatment for Crystal.

"God has watched out for Crystal for a long time," said Kim, "and I know He'll continue. Right now, we're in a holding pattern. We'll do another MRI in August and then depending on what is found, we'll discuss options if we have any at that point."

Right now, surgery is not an option because Crystal is still recovering from the stem cell transplant. Experimental chemotherapy treatment has also been ruled out, because Crystal's type of fast-growing brain cancer does not fit the eligibility criteria.

"Her tumors had been coming back every nine months, but this last one, came back in six months," said Kim.

Since the first tumor was removed from Crystal's brain stem in January of 2003, she has suffered from symptoms similar to a stroke.

"Crystal ended up with left-sided problems that cause her balance to be off and she is weaker on her left side," said Kim. "As a result of the high doses of chemo, Crystal has also become deaf in her left ear."

In order to care for Crystal, Kim was forced to quit working back in October of 2007. Crystal's treatment has required frequent trips to St. Louis and the stem cell transplant put Crystal in the hospital for three months.

Kim's husband and Crystal's dad, Ron, is a self-employed brick mason whose business has suffered this past year due to record rainfall amounts that limited his ability to work.

As a result of these circumstances, the Patricks now find themselves struggling to meet financial obligations and have money to buy gas and cover expenses stemming from their frequent medical-related trips to St. Louis.

Benefit planned

On Friday, Aug. 8, a benefit concert will be held at First Christian Church in Cassville from 7 to 9 p.m. All proceeds from the event will help the Patrick family pay for expenses associated with Crystal's treatment.

The concert will feature performances by two local bands - Walk-Ins Welcome and Lost in Honesty.

Walk-Ins Welcome, which includes Cassville High School graduates Ryan Schlichtman and Pate Shumaker and Cassville High School senior Vinee McCracken, will be using the benefit as their farewell concert. The trio of musicians will no longer be playing together as Schlichtman heads off to college in Colorado and Shumaker begins college in Springfield.

Lost in Honesty is another Cassville-based band that includes Cassville High School graduates Clint Reed, Kyle Mills, Will Dorrell and Jeremiah Harris and Cassville High School junior Justin Mills.

Both bands are popular among young audiences but adults will also enjoy their music.

All area residents are invited to attend the benefit. Admission is $5 per person with all the money going to the Patrick family. Conces-sions will also be available during the concert. First Christian Church is located at the intersection of Old Exeter Road and Highway 37.

Not giving up hope

Crystal's ongoing battle with cancer has been a struggle, but there have been many miracles along the way.

Back in 2004, doctors discovered one tumor on Crystal's brain and three along her spine. Because it appeared as if the cancer had spread to her spine, oncologists told Kim that there was nothing they could do and that surgery was out of the question.

At that point, Kim said they returned home and immediately participated in a hands-on healing service at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Cassville, which is where the Patricks attend. They also started a liquid vitamin regime and detox treatments at the Ozark Healthy Herbs in Cassville.

"On Crystal's next scan, the three tumors on the spine were gone," said Kim. "I definitely believe that prayer and pursuing unconventional treatments has made a difference. Through this whole thing, the doctors have said, 'we don't know what you're doing at home, but keep it up,' because it's working," said Kim.

Crystal has never been told she's in remission but doctors have declared her disease-free for short periods of time after removing her tumors. The Patricks had hoped the stem cell transplant would put Crystal in complete remission but the presence of a new tumor negated those hopes.

"We've tried all the chemo drugs that would normally take care of this cancer," said Kim. "There isn't anything else they know of that will work on her cancer."

Despite the recent prognosis, Kim said the family has a lot to celebrate. Last spring, Crystal achieved a milestone that seemed out of her reach back in 2003. On May 16, 2007, Crystal walked across the stage in the Cassville High School gym to receive her high school diploma.

"Crystal's goal was to go back to high school and finish out her senior year, which she did," said Kim. "She got to graduate with her class and walk across the stage to a standing ovation. There were many times when we thought we weren't going to see her graduate."

Kim said the family copes by talking to each other a lot and relying on the love of family and friends.

"We are blessed to have our family and many friends who have been very supportive emotionally and sometimes financially," said Kim. "Right now, we're just taking things a day at a time. We're blessed to be on this earth for a certain amount of time and no one knows when our time is going to be up."

Anyone who would like to support the Patrick family during their time of need can drop off contributions at Security Bank in Cassville. An account has been established in the name of Ron and Kim Patrick.

The Patrick family also includes Stephen, age 25, Jeff, 21, Zach, 20, Stephanie, 16, and Crystal's twin sister, Brittany, 19.

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