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We're Going for a Sleigh Ride With the Children's Art Project

Family Matters - Fall 2010

By Will Fitzgerald

Cody Wetzel has come a long way from his hospital bed at the 
MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. After being diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, at age 7, he recalls his cancer experience and its personal meaning.

“Ask the nurses, they’ll remember me,” says the 25-year-old Wetzel. “I never stayed in my room and always got into trouble. As far as I was concerned, my IV pole was a skateboard.”

Still, he was facing a cancer known for its ability to invade other parts of the body and this was a difficult reality for Wetzel to accept. For a kid used to running around the house and doing flips on the trampoline, Wetzel often grumbled about the daily routine of taking his medications.

“Then one day, my dad took me into a room and talked to me privately,” Wetzel says. “He told me that if I didn’t take my medicines, I was going to die. He still says that was the hardest thing he’s ever done.”

After this conservation, Wetzel adopted a new-found purpose, one centered on optimism and courage. During treatment, he channeled his energy by participating in the MD Anderson Cancer Center Childrens Art Project (CAP), a program that features the artwork of pediatric cancer patients on seasonal stationery and other gift items. Proceeds from artwork sales fund a variety of patient-focused programs at MD Anderson.

Between chemotherapy sessions, he sketched and painted more than five designs featured in CAP collections, including the “Sleigh” piece, which features Siberian huskies and a small Chihuahua, pulling a sleigh through the winter snow. In keeping with his characteristic sense of humor, the animals he painted are his own family pets.

After more than a decade of waiting, Cody’s “Sleigh” has been dusted off and once again will be featured, this time in CAP’s 2010 Holiday Collection. Reintroducing it is a testament to his ability to put a fresh spin on a timeless winter design, as well as his willingness to give back.

“Knowing that I painted something which will ultimately help others is an amazing feeling,” he says.

Today, 18 years after his diagnosis, Wetzel is cancer-free and happily married to his wife, Lauren. He still enjoys working with his hands, but his paintbrush has been swapped with a wrench, as he works as an auto mechanic in Texas.

At this September’s CAP Holiday Kickoff, an event honoring all the designers who created artwork for the 2010 Holiday Collection, Wetzel was honored with a “Hall of Fame Award” for his numerous and creative contributions.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center