High school cancer survivor among those participating in Gilbert Relay for Life event - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

High school cancer survivor among those participating in Gilbert Relay for Life event

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Posted: Friday, March 7, 2014 7:00 am | Updated: 10:04 am, Fri Mar 7, 2014.

The year 2012 wasn’t exactly the best for Highland High School student David Perre and his family. It was a Murphy’s law kind of year, one in which the family kept finding ways to return to the hospital with a slew of afflictions. Perre’s mom even lost a chunk of her thumb in a situation involving the family dog and some pork.

Perre’s hospital time started in the latter months of 2012 and took him well into 2013, it took him in and out of school and caused a few changes still in effect. But the experience didn’t darken his view of life, and it resulted in his involvement in Relay for Life events in Gilbert, including one scheduled for next month.

Perre’s story is unusual. It began with a wave of fatigue that hit him during his sophomore year at Highland, and was followed by the appearance of a lump in the lower right section of his abdomen. It was small lump, but the rest of his abdominal area become sore and he had to go under the knife on Sept. 11 last year for what appeared to be appendicitis.

“I woke up and then they told me I had a tumor,” he said.

It wasn’t exactly a small tumor, either; it weighed approximately 6.5 pounds.

Waking up with the news a doctor had removed a tumor the size of a newborn child — which provides an explanation for why he named it “Bob” — was a bit shocking, but there was a good amount of good luck benefiting Perre in this situation. He said his doctor, who was also shocked by the tumor sighting, did a good job clearing it out despite his lack of experience removing tumors, and Perre said he might not have lived another year if the tumor stayed inside him.

Removing the tumor didn’t mean Perre was out of the woods; rather, it ended up as the start of nine months of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiation therapy. He also missed loads of school time and had to attend an online school away from Highland to help keep up with the course requirements. Fortunately, he is still on pace to graduate and hopes to attend either Arizona State University or the University of Arizona.

Perre also is coping with a major change to his body, as the chemotherapy changed his hair from dirty blond and long to a very dark brown and quite curly.

“People who haven’t seen me since the chemotherapy don’t recognize me,” he said.

Despite all this bad luck afflicting Perre and his family over an 18-month span, the Highland senior said he never lost his optimism or his upbeat view of life.

Some of it stems from his comfort in the treatment process — he said he knew he would be just fine from the get go — but mostly his reaction came from a decision to not let the circumstances drag him down.

“I’m not just going to sit down and be that sad kid; I’m not going to be that sad kid,” he said.

A side benefit from his cancer experience is a trip to New York City for the premiere of “The Fault of our Stars” starring Shailene Woodley, which has him excited.

His cancer treatment also provided an avenue to get involved with the town’s Relay for Life event, which he did for the first time last year. He said it’s a pretty cool event, and he said the involvement of younger survivors like him helps kibosh a stereotype that cancer only hits people of a certain age.

While Relay for Life is a celebration of survival, it doubles as a memorial for the people who didn’t make it through. The major moment comes during the luminaria ceremony in which participants light a candle in a bag to remember someone who died from cancer.

“It’s just this moment that you say, ‘It could have been me; it could have been me that didn’t make it,’” he said.

Gilbert’s Relay for Life event is scheduled for April 11 and 12 at Williams Field High School, located at 2076 S. Higley Road. For more information, or to sign up, visit http://evtnow.com/66e.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-5647 or emungenast@evtrib.com

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