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Sixteen-year-old Randy Rhodes was spending his summer vacation enjoying Brunswick County when his whole world turned upside down.
The Shallotte resident and rising 10th grader at West Brunswick High School spent his summer going to the beach, hanging out with friends, playing video games and fishing with his sister and her boyfriend.
An avid football lover, he was practicing with the WBHS football team hoping to play this season.
Randy had been complaining of numbness in his arm since the previous fall. He went to numerous doctors, and everyone just thought it was a football injury.
But it wasn’t.
Randy’s older sister Kimberly, 20, remembers all too well.
“We thought it was a loose shoulder causing him to go numb, but it was a hot dog size tumor about an inch from his brain stem,” she said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “Then they did more tests and found it was all in his brain and down his spine.”
Life for the Rhodes family flipped upside down. Randy was diagnosed with an form of brain cancer called ependymoma.
“He went to his orthopedic nose doctor in Leland and they did a MRI test on [a] Monday,” Kimberly said. “On Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. she (doctor) came in and said he has a tumor. This is when we found the first tumor. By Tuesday night at 7 p.m. we were at Duke.
“At midnight that night he was getting more MRI testing. We thought we could go in and get it taken out, the biggest tumor, and then radiation. But they couldn’t take the tumor out because it was webbed into his brain and spine. They removed part of it to relieve pressure on his spine.”
The diagnosis came on July 17. Since that time the Rhodes family has only returned to their Shallotte home for a few days to pick up necessary items for their extended stay in Durham.
Randy has only been home for a weekend.
The family has been staying in the Ronald McDonald house in Durham. Randy underwent 12 weeks of radiation therapy. His radiation treatments are complete, but the side effects are far from over. He continues to battle blisters along his spine and in his esophagus that keep him returning to the hospital.
The progressive cancer was already Stage III when it was discovered, and there were multiple tumors on Randy’s brain and along his spine.
Kimberly said doctors have advised her family the progressive type of cancer Randy is battling won’t respond to chemotherapy. Randy has undergone three surgeries to try to alleviate pressure on his brain. He has received 12 bags of platelets.
“We are taking it day by day. Some days are good and some are so-so,” Kimberly said. “It has been rough on us.”
She said a typical day for Randy has included physical therapy, occupational therapy, radiation, schoolwork and doctors’ appointments.
Now that radiation treatments are done, the family is waiting. It will be six to nine weeks before they know if Randy’s body responded to the treatment.
“Hopefully in a couple weeks we get to come home to Brunswick County,” Kimberly said. “On Nov. 20 we come back for more tests for one week.”
The family is hopeful for good news. In the meantime, Randy is in and out of the hospital as his body fights to heal.
“He didn’t come this far to give up,” Kimberly said. “We want to thank the community and everybody that has supported my brother through all this because it really means a lot to us.”
This weekend the Rhodes’ church family at Victory Independent Baptist Church in Varnamtown is having a benefit for Randy and his family.
On Saturday, Oct. 6, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., chicken plates will be available with all proceeds going to benefit Randy.
Plates are $6 and dessert is $1. Additionally there are bracelets available to support Randy for $3. There will also be drawings and other ways to support Randy in his battle against cancer.
To pre-order, call Tonya at 515-5049 or Tina at 471-6935. The church is at 516 Varnamtown Road.
Rachel Johnsonis a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.