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Faith, family, friends and fight keep a local hero in the battle against cancer

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By Rachel Johnson, Staff Writer

When kryptonite threatened Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office detective and former West Brunswick High School standout football hero Tony Caison, he used his faith as a weapon.

The past year has been anything but easy for Caison, who was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer last March.

“What’s pulled me through this the most is my faith. Nobody beats stage III borderline stage IV pancreatic cancer,” Caison said.

He did just that. Even the doctors couldn’t explain it.

A year ago Caison went to Houston, Texas, for treatment after being diagnosed with ampullary pancreatic cancer. At the time, doctors felt there was more cancer because of the spread into Caison’s lymph nodes but couldn’t pinpoint it.

“The first time I remember taking chemo, I couldn’t walk, and there was a little girl on the elevator and I remember trying to wave at her and I couldn’t,” Caison said. “She looked at me and said, ‘It’s going to be OK.’”

In the beginning, Caison spent 16 days in the hospital and was on a feeding tube without any food for a month-and-a-half.

“I asked the doctor, ‘Can I please eat Cocoa Pebbles?’” Caison recalled of his first meal during treatment.

Caison has two children, and he remembers being very sick when they came to visit him during their spring break. Caison was just two treatments into his chemotherapy. He wanted to spend time with them so much that he pretended to be better so doctors would let him go home.

“They came to visit, and I got to see them for three days because I was so sick,” Caison said. “I was still sick and nauseated, but I held down my throw-up just so I could get out and see them. Two days later I was back in the hospital.”

This time doctors performed an exploratory surgery.

“The surgeon stopped the surgery and told my family he had never seen anything like this before. He said, ‘I don’t see pancreatic cancer anymore.’”

The tumor was gone.

“During the surgery, the doctor saw a small bowel tumor—the mother-root tumor,” Caison explained.

He underwent an intestinal bypass surgery.

The doctor told Caison after the pancreatic cancer tumor was gone, “You’re not climbing Mount Everest, but you are still climbing a really big mountain.”

“I asked the doctor if he could clinically explain what happened with the tumor,” Caison said. “He told me, ‘Sometimes you can’t explain it. In your case, it’s a miracle and it’s God’s work.’

Caison spent four months in Texas receiving treatment. In July 2012, he returned home to Brunswick County and continued chemotherapy treatments through last August.

In January of this year Caison returned to Texas for a checkup.

“The doctor said everything looked good, but my tumor markers were back up,” he said.

Caison took four more rounds of chemotherapy in February. He began taking a chemo pill just one week ago.

 

Tony’s Fab Four

Caison is often asked to speak about what kept him fighting. Before a speaking engagement, he prayed and asked the Lord to give him something to base his talk around. This was the start of Tony’s Fab Four.

“The four F’s. First you have faith, then family, friends and fight,” Caison said. “If you’re not right with your faith, you might as well hang it up.”

Throughout his journey Caison saw the Lord’s hand in his life numerous times, from small answered prayers for quiet to larger visions.

When he was first diagnosed, Caison and his wife, Shannon, went to Philadelphia for testing. He remembers falling asleep and seeing a room with white walls and a man in silk pajamas who looked like his late father.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Daddy.’ He turned around, smiled and looked at me and said, ‘I am telling you, you’re going to be OK,” Caison said.

He recalls sharing this vision with one of his brothers, and his brother described having a very similar visit.

“I told the doctor later, ‘Doc, regardless of what happens, I’m going to be OK. If I don’t win my battle, I’m going to heaven. If I win my battle, I’m going to be here to pester you,’ ” Caison said.

 

Retirement

Last September Caison made what he calls one of the hardest decisions of his life—he retired from the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. Caison served the community in law enforcement for 16 years. He ended his career as sergeant of detectives.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “When you put your heart into something to get it taken away by something like this, it’s hard…One day maybe I will make it back to work.”

The silver lining for Caison is now he has more time to spend with his family. In the past year, Caison has volunteered his time as a youth football coach, a girls’ basketball coach and a baseball coach. He also joined the Civietown Fire Department as a volunteer.

Caison has been overwhelmed by the support from the local community.

“People I’ve put in prison have seen me at Walmart and come up and asked if I’m OK and given me a hug,” Caison said. “One guy I didn’t even know was out, came up and hugged my neck.”

Caison says a lot of things have come full circle for him.

“When I first got into law enforcement, my brother told me you have to remember that one day you won’t have the badge, and people are going to remember how you were to them with the badge. He was right,” Caison said. “I always tried to treat people decent.”

In January, Caison lost one of his faithful supporters, good friends and former sheriff’s office co-worker—Kyle Jones.

“That has been one of the hardest things,” he said. “Kyle and I were really close. That has been a big burden on me.”

During Caison’s battle, Jones helped coordinate a fundraiser for Caison and his family and was a huge source of support.

“Let me tell you how much of a man Kyle Jones was and Mike Murray. While I was in the hospital, they took my son to University of North Carolina Wilmington and arranged for him to participate in baseball practice with the team. He (Jones) did a lot for me while I was gone.”

 

The future

“I’m doing great. I’m still fighting. It’s nowhere near the battle it was. I’ll be here a long, long time. I’m not looking to go anywhere. I’m going to fight this to the end,” Caison said. “The only thing I can explain is that the Lord has blessed me to do other things in my life.”

Caison and his family are active in the American Cancer Society’s Brunswick County Relay for Life. His team, Tony’s Fab Four (Faith, Friends, Family & FIGHT!), plans to be on hand May 3 at West Brunswick High School. The event begins at 6 p.m. and lasts through the night.

Caison and his colleagues at the sheriff’s office are selling the Superman shirts originally designed as a fundraiser for him now to be used as a fundraiser for Jones’ daughter’s college fund. They are available by contacting April Gause at the sheriff’s office.

Anyone wanting to cheer on Caison and others in their battle against cancer is invited to the relay event. Caison will join others from the area in the survivor’s lap during the event. For more information on how you can join Caison and Tony’s Fab Four (Faith, Friends, Family & FIGHT!) visit

http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?fr_id=53015&pg=team_id=1396028.

 

Rachel Johnson is a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or rjohnson@brunswickbeacon.com.