Wishes really do come true

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By Calen McKinney

It began with what appeared to be a pulled muscle. It ended with a trip to Hawaii. Tyler Payne, 17, has battled a rare form of bone cancer that affects children ages 11-16 for more than two years.

"They thought he got hurt when we went camping," his mother, Debbie Payne, said.

Tyler underwent a series of X-rays and other tests, but none seemed to solve his problems, which started with some swelling in his right knee.

"The pulled muscle didn't go away," Tyler's father, T.J., said.

The Payne family later learned that the treatments for Tyler's pulled muscle only delayed treating his aggressive cancer.

Tyler was diagnosed with cancer on Aug. 24, 2006. He was 15 and a student at Taylor County High School.

Mrs. Payne said she remembers doctors asking her if Tyler had a cancer insurance policy.

"Who really thinks of a 15-year-old having cancer?" she said. "They asked me if we had a cancer policy. On my 15-year-old? No."

Mr. Payne, who was a truck driver at the time, said he was told the news on the phone while stopped on the side of a road in New Jersey. Mrs. Payne received a call while shopping at a local store.

"I had to get out of there before I started screaming," Mrs. Payne said. "I called [my husband] crying."

Mrs. Payne said she remembers calling and telling the school and asking them not to tell her son.

When Tyler came home that afternoon, she said, she told him the doctors weren't sure what he had yet and wanted to do more tests.

"He later came in and said, 'Mom, do they think I have cancer?'" she said.

One of the Paynes' family members had just died of cancer, and Mrs. Payne said she wasn't sure how to tell Tyler he had cancer himself.

"I remember thinking, 'How am I gonna tell him?'"

More than 30 rounds of chemotherapy and seven surgeries followed Tyler's diagnosis.

"It was a major shock to all of us," Mr. Payne said. "We were told it was [going to be] a life changing event for everyone."

Mr. Payne said Tyler's cancer was aggressive and required invasive, in-patient treatment from a cancer center in Louisville.

Tyler's chemotherapy treatments required that he stay in a Louisville hospital throughout his 40 weeks of treatment, sometimes seeing only his parents, doctors and nurses for several days.

"He would go weeks without seeing his sisters," Mr. Payne said.

Though Tyler didn't get sick from his treatments, he did feel some effects.

"No hair," Tyler said, with a smile.

Throughout his treatments, Tyler and his family became close to his doctors and nurses. One of those people, Mr. Payne said, submitted Tyler's name to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Mrs. Payne says those eligible for "wishes" are children under 18 who are battling life-threatening illnesses.

Tyler later learned he was going to be granted a wish, and he and his parents met with Make-A-Wish employees. He was told to select two wishes, just in case his first couldn't be granted.

Mrs. Payne said parents aren't allowed to influence a child's wish in any way, so Tyler's decision was entirely up to him.

Tyler's two wishes were to travel to Hawaii or go on a shopping spree. His wish for a trip to Hawaii was granted and the Payne family - including his sisters Jaclyn, 12, and Ronnie Beth, 6 - spent a week in Waikiki on Aug. 16-23.

"He loves everything about the military," Mr. Payne said. "He wanted to tour the USS Louisville."

While touring the USS Louisville wasn't possible because the ship was out at sea, the family did get a private tour of the USS Columbia, a ship that is generally not open for tours.

The family also toured the Honolulu Zoo, visited the Polynesian Cultural Center, went deep-sea fishing and spent some time at the beach.

The trip was paid for entirely by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Tyler and his parents all said they had a great time.

"They did what he asked for," Mr. Payne said.

Tyler's trip to Hawaii wasn't the only trip he has been on recently. He was also chosen to travel to Washington, D.C. in May to meet President George W. Bush.

Mrs. Payne said Sunshine Kids, a nonprofit group dedicated to children with cancer, chose four children from Kentucky to travel to a national event in Washington to tour the White House and meet the Baltimore Ravens football team.

Tyler said he - after his mom asked him to - asked Bush what he could do to lower healthcare and gasoline costs.

"He said he would see what he could do," Tyler said.

Mr. Payne said Tyler's form of bone cancer requires him to have scans every three months to see if the cancer has reappeared. He will never be labeled "cancer free."

Tyler was scheduled to receive the results of his latest scan last week.

"It's basically, we just wait," Mr. Payne said. "It may never come back, but he'll always have to be checked.

"He'll battle this the rest of his life."

Since being diagnosed, Tyler has been unable to return to TCHS. He now takes classes at the Adult Learning Center toward completion of his GED.

Mrs. Payne said the family couldn't have gotten through Tyler's surgeries and chemotherapy treatments without support from the community, in the form of prayers, phone calls and monetary donations.

"If it hadn't been for their support, I don't know what we would have done."

Though Tyler's battle with cancer won't ever have an end, Mrs. Payne said, his family has found a new outlook on life.

"You can deal with more than you think," she said. "It becomes a part of life, it's a way of life.

"You don't sweat the small stuff anymore."

Mr. Payne said he learned just how many good people there are in this world.

"I [have seen] a lot of bad and ugly," he said. "[Through this experience], you see how many good people there really are. Some that you've never met.

"We realized really soon that no matter how bad it is, it can be worse. Someone is worse."

Overall, Mr. Payne said, the support they received helped them the most through Tyler's cancer.

"Family, friends and faith."

For now, however, the Paynes look forward to settling into a routine.

"We're just trying to get back to a normal life," Mr. Payne said.

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.