By Melanie Patterson
The North Jefferson News
When Michelle Swader felt a small knot on her son’s back in July 2007, she did not even dream that it was cancer.
Alex Swader, a second-grader at Mt. Olive Elementary School, was competing at the Applause National Talent Competition in Gatlinburg with Beverly’s Dance Unlimited.
“While we were there, I gave him a hug and felt a small knot on his back the size of a pea,” said Michelle Swader. “That’s when it started.”
She thought it was a bruise because the skin was blue around the knot.
Three weeks later, it was still there. Doctors thought it was nothing to worry about, but then in October the knot began to grow quickly.
A surgeon removed it on Jan. 7, still thinking that it was benign. But after testing, Alex was diagnosed on Jan. 14 with Ewing’s sarcoma.
Ewing’s sarcoma is a rare cancer that can occur in bone or soft tissue. Alex had it in the soft tissue near his spine.
Fortunately, his cancer had not spread. He is currently undergoing weekly chemotherapy treatments at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Doctors said he will need to have the treatments for about 30 weeks.
“At first it was sort of surreal. I was just in shock, I think,” said Michelle Swader. “Then I just decided I have to do what I have to do.”
Alex seems to have the same attitude.
“Alex is such an upbeat, positive child,” said Swader. “He’s been a trooper through all of this. Bu he has had his moments when he’s scared, he’s nervous.”
Swader said that mostly, the 8-year-old misses school, his friends and dance class.
Alex is keeping up with his school work in Renee Houston’s class at Mt. Olive Elementary School.
Swader picks up his homework from school and then returns it when Alex finishes.
“Doctors encourage him to go to school and dance when he feels like it,” said Swader, adding that it is not safe right now with the flu being widespread.
“He misses (school) really bad,” she said. “He’s a very social little guy, so he misses his friends and the activity and being around other people.”
In one ironic twist, Alex’s dance team helped support the North Jefferson Relay for Life last year by performing for about an hour at the event. Relay for Life raises funds annually to research a cure for cancer.
“It’s odd. A year ago, this was the furthest thing from our minds,” said Swader. “It’s kind of come full circle. Last year was the first time the team was invited, and this year he has cancer.”
Swader said there is a possibility of a team being put together for this year’s Relay for Life in Alex’s name.
In order to help the Swader family with medical expenses, two banks have set up accounts to accept donations.
“We didn’t take out the cancer part on his insurance. He’s a kid. You don’t think about it,” said Swader.
She said that one copay for a 10-day supply of medication was $4,800. It is a medicine that helps Alex from getting an infection by keeping his white blood count from getting too low.
That is only one of several medications Alex must take to fight the cancer’s return.
To donate, go to any Wachovia Bank or First American Bank where accounts are set up in Alex Swader’s name.
“We welcome any deposits to help him out in his cause to help him beat this,” said Jimmy Cockrell, bank manager for Wachovia in Gardendale.
Friends and family can also write messages to Alex or read journal entries from his mother at www.caringbridge.org/visit/alexswader.
By Melanie Patterson