Smiling Through the Pain of Cancer

May 23, 2012  |  Posted by JEFF McNIELL, Houston Herald jmcniell@houstonheral

Houston boy, 3, making memories with his family as terminal disease attacks his body.

Liam Myrick loves motorcycles and monster trucks. He enjoys painting, playing outside and like most 3-year-old boys, annoying his two big sisters.
But the sad reality for Liam and his family is those moments will soon be only a memory.
Liam has Stage 4 neuroblastoma. He has undergone 12 rounds of chemotherapy, two bone marrow and stem cell transplants and 20 rounds of radiation. Nothing slowed the deadly cancer. His parents received the sobering news two weeks ago that the disease was terminal.
With as little as 30 days and no more than four months left together, the Myricks have made it their mission to enjoy each and every moment. It’s about the quality of life and not the quantity, Liam’s mother, Shawna, has concluded.
“We don’t have much longer,” she said. “Whatever that little boy wants to do, that’s what we’re going to do. Whatever I have to do to make sure we have lasting memories together, we’ll do it. We want to give him as much as we can.”
Shawna remembers the date without hesitation: July 23, 2011. It’s the day their lives changed forever.
Five days earlier, Shawna had just finished giving Liam a bath at the end of a sweltering summer day that had included a family trip to the swimming pool. Greg Myrick grabbed his son to hug him at bedtime. Liam screamed in pain and began dry heaving. Something was terribly wrong.
The Myricks made a trip to the emergency room that night and returned the following day. Liam had a fever that eventually climaxed at 104.5 degrees. The on-duty doctor told the family he could see Liam’s liver through his skin. He ordered a computed tomography scan. Liam was immediately rushed to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
The official diagnosis came July 23. Liam had neuroblastoma. It’s a disorder that occurs in approximately one out of 100,000 children and is slightly more common in boys. In most patients, the neuroblastoma has already spread when it is first diagnosed. That was the case with Liam. The tumor was growing out of the adrenal gland on top of his kidney. It wrapped around his aorta, filled his abdomen, split his diaphragm and settled on the bottom half of his lungs.
The tumor was creating a blister effect. Every time Liam breathed, it left fluid on his lungs. He was given a round of chemo while still incubated to shrink the tumor.
Liam was placed on life support. Shawna remembers the moment when doctors asked if she wanted to take him off. He was unconscious and sedated by medicine.
“I sat there with Liam in the ICU and said, ‘Buddy, if you’re done, okay. But if you’re not done, I need one huge sign,’ ” she said. “He crossed his legs and squeezed my hand.”
Shawna has the letters “NEGU” tattooed on her left wrist. It stands for “never ever give up.” Liam certainly hasn’t.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds "" “There really isn’t a survival rate. It’s a death sentence,” Shawna said "" Liam lives a lifestyle similar to most boys his age. He is often in his front yard, chasing sisters Natasha, 12, and Natalie, 6, with his monster truck. When inside, Liam loves to paint. He earned the nickname “pint-sized Picasso” for his work while at children’s hospital. He was featured on local newscasts, and several of his paintings were auctioned off.
“Most kids don’t last as long as he has,” Shawna said. “He has fought his way through it and kept smiling "" even when the going got rough.”
There are extreme differences, too. Shawna said Liam knows how to take his own temperature and draw his blood.
“He knows he is sick and it’s called ‘cancer,’ ” Greg said. “He doesn’t really get the rest.”
Unfortunately, his sisters do.
Both have dealt with their brother’s illness in different ways. Greg, who has been the sole leader of the home while Shawna was with Liam in St. Louis, said Natalie has been needy. Natasha is often angry.
“A lot of days are just riding the storm out,” Greg said. “Natasha doesn’t understand it or think it’s fair. We’re all there. We don’t understand either.”
The call with the chilling news came May 7. Doctors had done everything they could do. None of the treatments had slowed the cancer. Liam was terminally ill. The time frame was a short one. Liam would definitely be gone before Christmas.
“Natalie said, ‘Where’s Santa going to deliver Liam’s presents if he is gone?’” Natasha recalled.
The reality is difficult to understand. Especially after seeing Natalie, who was diagnosed with stage 2 brain cancer three years earlier, survive.
“It doesn’t seem real,” Natasha said. “I don’t understand how he can fight so hard and for so long and not kick it.”
With little time left together as a complete family, the Myricks are determined to make Liam’s final days memorable ones. Last week alone, Liam was a pilot for the day at Scott Air Force Base and threw out the first pitch at Friday’s Springfield Cardinals game.
On Saturday, a benefit will be held in Liam’s honor at the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce Fairgrounds. It will include auctions, appearances by BIGFOOT and a FMX biker, flyover from Scott Air Force Base, candle vigil, fireworks display and thousands of motorcycles.
The event will celebrate the life of a special boy whose days on earth are numbered.
“He knows that it’s getting close,” Natasha said. “On the way to radiation, he pointed up to the sky and said, ‘Mommy, am I going up there soon?’”
Too soon.

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