MY TURN: Boy offers lesson on how to beat the odds

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In a grim year, there is the occasional piece of hope, from a small city in New Hampshire where a  resilient young boy resides.

His name is Colt Verbeck, a 7-year-old boy  who touched my heart when I heard of his medical plight  two years ago.

Colt’s mother, Emily, was a basketball player of note during high school and college. Now, as a mother of three elementary age boys, she has a decidedly different focus.

Nash, Colt, and Clark, ranging in age from 4 to 9 who have developed a special bond. Their kinship has been cemented during Colt’s medical journey played out at Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana Farber Cancer Institute since February 2018 when the words “Lymphoblastic Lymphoma” paid a visit to the family.

“Colt hadn’t been sick, but we noticed a persistent swollen gland on his neck that we had looked at,” Emily says.

Following several routine medical exams over  three months, a doctor ordered a biopsy “just to be safe.”

Suddenly, their world was turned upside down.

“Cancer. As a parent, that word stops your world,” Emily says. “The breath is knocked out of you. There are absolutely no words that can summarize the terror, fear, and pain.

“Fortunately, we live 1.5 hours from one of the best medical centers in the world. We met with doctors at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and we were soon embarking on our 25-month journey towards a cure.”

A rocky road began with an intensive 45-day treatment “blast” designed to “knock the life out of the cancer.”

“It was brutal to see him experience something like that, especially at his age,” says Emily. “None of us were fully prepared for what he had to go through. It was devastating.”

And yet, somehow he survived, setting the stage for more cancer aftershocks.

Each Friday for  two years, a medically fragile boy with a compromised immune system underwent chemotherapy treatments, intravenous sessions in which cancer-beating cocktails were pumped into his bloodstream, one time with nearly fatal consequences.

“In July of 2018, Colt had a severe allergic reaction to one of the chemo mixtures and ended up in the ICU with pancreatitis and had to be placed in a medically induced coma,” says Emily. “It was an incredibly scary time. We didn't know if he was going to make it.”

But after an extended hospital stay, make it he did, although with another hurdle to overcome—diabetes.

“That poor kid just couldn’t catch a break,” says his mom.

“To go through all that and then to develop diabetes because of the chemo was just too much to bear.”

Cancer-causing agents were still hovering around, declining to take a back seat to  diabetes. “The diabetes certainly complicated matters with the blood checks and insulin injections, but Colt still had to go to weekly chemo treatments,” Emily explains.

“The schedule was unrelenting.”

Chemo forced Colt and his family to live in three-week cycles, tied to the potency of the treatments.

“The first week after one of those treatments he would feel miserable, then he would have a week of recovery, and then he would have a week where he would feel fairly normal before starting the cycle all over again,” she says.

His medical travails were a constant worry for family and friends, as they tried to make sense of how one boy could endure so much.

“He’s taken literally thousands of pills, had more than a 100 chemo treatments, and undergone 20-plus surgeries during this ordeal,” his mother recounts. “The numbers are mind-boggling.”

But through it all, he has become “Colt Strong,” a moniker he can share with his two brothers.

“We have ‘Nash Strong’ and ‘Clark Strong’ too, because they have been a huge part of the support network for Colt,” says Emily. “He couldn’t have done it without the love and support of his brothers.”

Countless others deserve kudos too, says Emily, who has shouldered much of the load with the boys’ father, Chad.

“People came out of the woodwork to help our family,” she says.

“Prayers, meals, childcare, pet sitting, house cleaning, care packages, donations ... you name it, people did it. It was so humbling to see the power of a community coming together to support us.”

As millions around the world observed Good Friday, the Verbeck family rejoiced.

“Colt was officially proclaimed to be in remission,” Emily reports. “It was a word we wondered if we would ever hear.”

Colt for months dreamed of holding an “I Kicked Cancer” party. But the spread of the coronavirus put the kibosh on that, prompting neighbors and an ever-growing list of admirers to opt for Plan B--a parade..

And it wasn’t your garden-variety type of parade. Instead, it was of the homespun, tightknit neighborhood type, featuring 80 cars, fire trucks and police vehicles, a bicycle pedaling school principal, and the Easter Bunny.

Colt had a front row seat, watching from the front yard.

“It was the best,” says Emily. “The show of love and support was simply overwhelming. It meant the world to us.”

Among the attendees were friends from Marsh & McLennan Agency, where Emily works as director of marketing.

“I cannot say enough good things about MMA and how they have treated our family during this time,” says Emily.

“They told us to put our family first, and they lived by that. I am so grateful for their leadership and commitment to treating their colleagues with such compassion and dignity.”

The same can be said for “all the nurses, doctors, technicians, and volunteers” at the hospital, says Emily.

“They are all family now,” she says. “Always will be.”

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