In April 2011, Shane Leonard was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a form of cancer so rare for his age that MD Anderson only had about six recorded cases comparable to his in the last 40 years. Shane had surgery to remove the tumor in his neck and this past summer completed seven weeks of proton therapy, an advanced form of radiation. Shane, now 18 and enjoying his senior year of high school, is an outstanding student who loves physics and a member of the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony.
While in Houston for treatment this past summer, Shane missed the symphony's annual camp and was asked to share his experience with his fellow students in a letter. The following is an excerpt from that letter that shows what a profound impact cancer has and will continue to have on his life.
Proton therapy, huge machine, even bigger impact
My radiation treatment is an interesting experience. Every day, at five o'clock, I get strapped down onto a table and I wear a special mask that was molded specifically for my face. For half an hour, a 200-ton machine rotates around my body into various positions and bombards me with protons.
The machine is so large that there are entire rooms above and below my treatment room that house most of its body while it rotates. It reminds me of a church organ -- though the facade is massive, most of the machinery is hidden from sight. The sheer size of the proton machine encourages me that God is literally moving mountains on my behalf.
A community of caring
My family and I are staying in a hotel next to the medical center, which means that nearly all the guests here are like me, cancer patients undergoing treatment.
Being so close to so many hurting people has radically changed my perspective. It's an indescribable feeling when you look around and realize that everyone around you is in need. So many people have given up everything to be here. On the bus yesterday, I met a man who lives in Saudi Arabia!
In the midst of all of this, I see a deep, sacrificial type of love abounding everywhere.
There are sons and daughters here caring for their parents, parents caring for their children, even friends taking care of friends.
I share a special connection with each person I meet here, because we all have the common thread of cancer.
This is a place where despair should thrive and sorrow should reign. Instead, I have found a thriving, close-knit community built on faith, hope and love.
Though cancer sometimes seems like a curse word or an unspeakable evil, I would not trade my experience with it for anything.
Over this difficult summer, I have slowly learned that suffering often is a tool that God uses to produce beautiful things. It has produced some patience, peace and perspective in my heart.
Through a tribulation like this, I have tasted a small morsel of true life -- and it shatters the American delusion that life is all about comfort and convenience.
Sometimes, life is about learning who you are; about reaching out to someone in pain; about fighting for your faith no matter what the odds are. Sometimes, life requires courage.
Through my fight with cancer, I am motivated to start living a life that consistently requires great courage. I hope that you are motivated to do the same. Even just a handful of courageous people who are willing to change the world will inevitably do so. There is no stopping a man who can overcome the fear of suffering.