Suffolk teen’s cancer in remission

Published 10:58 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Marshall Thomas said he doesn’t remember much about the first two weeks he was hospitalized in Colorado after being diagnosed with pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia in June.

He remembers enjoying the first half of the family vacation, a cruise to Alaska. And he remembers being sick during the second half of the trip, eating little else but watermelon, throwing up on the plane and collapsing in the airport in Denver.

And, he remembers the diagnosis.

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“Well, before they gave me drugs and stuff, they told me, and I was pretty freaked out,” Marshall said. “But after that I didn’t really care. I was just like, ‘All right, we’ve got to do this now.’”

But he doesn’t remember much about the next two weeks.

During that time, doctors were aggressively treating several infections he had — a serious blood infection and a lung infection, and doctors also suspected a fungus in the lungs.
“So really what was making him sick was all of those infections,” said his mom, Melissa Thomas. “Not that the cancer wasn’t a problem, but that’s not what was making him feel so bad at the time. His infections were really bad, and so that’s what kind of took place in those first two weeks as they were aggressively going after those.”

Doctors had to wait to start his chemotherapy because his immune system was struggling through the infections. Eventually, doctors were able to hook him to a PICC line to administer his chemotherapy treatment while hospitalized in Colorado. The PICC, which stands for peripherally inserted central-line catheter, was put into a large vein in his arm.

While in the hospital, Marshall was under a constant state of treatment, but his family — including his mom, dad Nick, four sisters and a brother — was able to stay near his Aurora, Colo., hospital with the help of numerous donations.

“I definitely got upset sometimes,” Marshall said of his diagnosis, “’cause, well, it’s not very fun. But I feel like most of the time I was OK with it. I was playing video games a lot.”

While playing a lot of Skyrim, Marshall had his walls covered in photos and cards that people had sent him, including one jokingly asking why he was acting so crazy. His football team and other teams associated with the Beach Breakers put their signatures to a pillowcase.

Melanie Drennan, the wife of the Breakers’ football coach, sent Marshall handwritten letters with Scripture readings on them that boosted his spirits, and he said his teammates called and sent lots of text messages.

After he returned home to Suffolk late last month, he had a port surgically inserted to give the chemotherapy, and he goes to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk for treatment, and he also takes oral chemo at home.

Now, Marshall is working to get his strength up. Though he is not able to play any contact sports while he has the port inside of him, he can do most things, as long as his body allows him.

“Other than (football), I can do whatever else I can do,” Marshall said. “I just shouldn’t push myself too much.”

He battles nausea and fatigue on a daily basis, which means he’s had time to catch up on Netflix programming and Xbox games. He was able to go fishing — one of his favorite activities — with a cousin about a week ago at Davis Lakes Campground. But because his medication makes him sensitive to sunlight, he has to wear sunblock and avoid direct contact.

He’s hoping to get his muscles back, as he was squatting nearly 400 pounds before his leukemia diagnosis, “and now I struggle (with) the stairs.”

But having been inactive for the last seven to eight weeks after being diagnosed hasn’t helped.

“I just need to work out and then I won’t be so tired, but nausea is hindering me from doing that right now,” Marshall said. “So once that stops happening, I’ll be fine.”

He just started his homeschool classes for this school year Monday, and his mother is grateful for the flexibility that homeschooling gives him with trying to get better.

Marshall is about two weeks into the second phase of his treatment, which continues for 56 days. His treatment will continue for more than three years.

“It’s a long road,” Melissa Thomas said. “I had no idea it was such a long path. … It’s basically day-by-day, because it’s really all we can do, just take each day as it comes and try our best to keep him healthy.”

Marshall, who wants to go into landscaping or construction after high school, believes he’ll be strong enough by next summer to resume working at Davis Lakes Campground as a lifeguard.

But he and his family understand the long road ahead to getting him fully healthy as his leukemia is in remission.

“I’ll still wake up sometimes and I’ll be like, ‘All right. Oh wait, I have cancer,” Marshall said. “Or, I don’t have cancer anymore but …”

His voice trailed off there.

“Right, that’s what we make sure we say,” his mom said. “Because it’s in remission, so the cancer’s gone. The treatment is just to make sure it doesn’t come back, basically. That’s why he corrected himself, because I don’t allow him to say he has cancer anymore.”

And though he’s appreciative of all the support he has received, there is one thing that bothers him.

“It’s irritating when people would be like, ‘Awww,’ anytime I’d say anything,” Marshall said. “I was like, ‘All right, I’m still a person. I’m the same Marshall, just can’t do stuff. … I’m as active as my body will let me be. If I keep doing that, there’ll be more and more I can do.”