Teen wins round in cancer fight

Shaw Lamb, mother of cancer patient James Lamb, said she received the best Mother's Day gift ever from her son this year - a big, heart-felt belly laugh. It was the first time he's laughed since he started chemotherapy.

"We were watching the street performers at the wharf," Shaw said. "Everyone else was having a good time, and I was sitting there with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye."

The family makes their home in Gardnerville when James isn't undergoing treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer, at the University of California in San Francisco, Calif.

Shaw said the last PET scan in April showed that the tumor, which was the size of a plate when discovered in December, had shrunk by half. No live tumor cells were found.

In addition to his ordeal with cancer, James is fighting the effects of spina bifida, a congenital disorder that left him paralyzed from the waist down since he was born. He's had 35 surgeries in his 17 years to combat the effects of that disease, but this challenge is proving to be his greatest.

Often, the tumor is surgically removed once it has shrunk, but due to complications from spina bifida, doctors do not consider that an option, Shaw said.

She called the 17-year-old her hero.

"He's gone through so much his whole life," she said. "I'm in awe of his courage and his will to, as he puts it, 'kick butt' and get it done so he can move on to tomorrow."

This is primarily a pediatric cancer and for normal children, prognosis is good, but James' pre-existing condition complicates the picture, Shaw said.

James just finished the first six-week phase of chemotherapy to eradicate any undetected cancer. He will undergo 40 weeks of chemotherapy before the treatment is complete, she said.

"We're taking it day by day. Right now, we're having a good day," she said. "We're getting ready to start radiation treatments next week. Those will continue for six weeks and after that, there will be more chemotherapy."

Father James Lamb Sr said the combination of morphine and chemotherapy has scarred James's lungs, a condition called acute respiratory depression syndrome that put him in a coma and in the intensive care ward.

He was in a coma and on a ventilator for 10 days.

"He's dependent on oxygen now," James Sr. said. "It's nothing the doctors can fix because the chemotherapy is depressing his immune system. Hopefully, when the chemotherapy is over, his lungs will start healing."

Chemotherapy has also compromised the boy's kidney function, which has been reduced to 70 percent of normal, said James Sr.

Grandmother Marty Folin said the family is holding together through this ordeal. With the good news that the cancer is shrinking, they are persevering. Doctors are encouraged and pleased with James' willingness to endure the challenges and come up fighting.

"Doctors say he has a tremendous will and that's a big part of the battle," she said.

"The laptop is up and running," she said. "He misses home, but he'll be in San Francisco until October or November unless something drastic happens."

Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.


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