By RORYE O’CONNOR
MT. VERNON — —
Nigel Woodgett is your typical busy 13-year-old — he loves playing basketball and football and enjoying video games with his friends.
One thing that distinguishes him, however, is that he manages to squeeze chemotherapy treatments between his eighth grade classes at Casey Middle School and basketball practice.
Nigel was diagnosed with lymphoma in May, after becoming sick with migraines and numbness in April, said his mother, Angela Nesbit. At first, doctors believed Nigel was suffering from complex migraines, but when Angela asked him to speak and his speech was slurred, a doctor ordered a CT scan. The initial CT scan found one tumor in his brain.
“It was kind of scary, but yet I think it really helped, trusting and believing in God,” she said. “I told him, whatever happens I will not leave you, we’ll go through this together. The Lord said, ‘Don’t fear.’”
Nigel and Angela traveled to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, where more MRI scans found a total of three tumors in Nigel’s brain — one was operable, but one was located behind his left eye, and one was growing in the back of his head, near his spinal cord.
“They day we got there, he said, ‘Why didn’t we come here a long time ago?’” Angela said. “I felt a kind of peace then, because I knew he was comfortable. I knew it was a good thing we were here.”
Nigel’s first stay at the hospital was one month, Angela said, and after the brain surgery to remove one of the tumors, his strength grew steadily.
Now, Nigel travels to Cardinal Glennon on Friday and goes through the chemotherapy process, usually returning on Monday. Angela said they have scheduled his chemotherapy for weekends in an effort to miss as little school as possible.
He said he looks forward to not having to travel to St. Louis each week.
Nigel is a guard on the 8th grade varsity basketball team, he said, and hopes to be able to play football in high school.
“I like hanging out with my friends and playing video games,” he said.
Another thing that distinguishes Nigel from his peers is his strength while going through his treatment, Angela said.
“Surgery and chemotherapy made him miss a couple days of school, but he didn’t want to,” she said. “He pushes himself. ... He’s living his life like nothing’s wrong.”
Angela said his teachers at CMS have been great, allowing him to stay in a classroom a little longer if treatment has tired him out and making sure he eats and stays hydrated.
“He goes so fast every day, he forgets to eat, and if he gets dehydrated, he has to stay at the hospital longer,” she said. “We try to work together, but he doesn’t want any special treatment, he says.”
Nigel said chemotherapy is the hardest part of his whole treatment process.
“I would rather go to school than chemo, and see my friends and teachers,” he said.
He said to other kids who might be going through cancer treatment, he would say, “Always have faith and hope.”
Angela said when her son was first diagnosed, she wouldn’t talk about it in front of him, and she especially wouldn’t utter the word “cancer” in his presence. She said she prayed until she realized he was strong enough to hear what was going on.
“He looked a little scared once the word cancer first came out, but it’s not a death sentence,” she said. “Once I explained that to him, he was OK.”
Support for Nigel as he went through his treatment came from many areas — from his fellow church members, who prayed for him and continue to do so, from students at his school, who have helped raise money for his treatment, and from the Relay for Life of Jefferson County, which Nigel participated in this summer.
In Herrin, family members of Denise Wade started a foundation in her memory, and Nigel was one of the first people who the foundation made a contribution to.
“I thought that was wonderful,” Angela said. “We were around people who didn’t even know Nigel, but they care.”
Nigel also gets support during his treatment from his football coaches, Marty and Margie Schwartz, Angela said.
“After basketball games, they take me out to eat,” he said. “They do a lot of stuff for me.”
When Nigel was diagnosed, ladies from their church, Lively Stone Apostolic Church, came and stayed the night at the hospital, she said.
“Iris Rudd, the first lady of the church, was able to come out, which meant a lot,” she said. “Nigel looks up to them.”
She said one night, while the church was holding a prayer session for Nigel in Mt. Vernon, and he was getting treatment in St. Louis, he said he could hear the pastor, Alan Rudd, and his wife, saying it was going to be OK. He said he could also hear another church member, who he knows as Mama Jackie, saying “Don’t give up.”
“At first I thought, ‘Is he tripping?’ But I found out later that they were praying, that they were here in prayer,” she said. “I think those words gave him strength, because they were from people he looked up to.”
Angela said she believes Nigel is very brave.
“I believe he believes God has healed him as far as being sick,” she said. “I want him to get to the point where he can inspire other children.”
She said though his treatment is almost over, the experience is still a part of his life he’ll never forget, and she hopes he will choose to help others through the process.”
Nigel said he didn’t worry when he was undergoing his treatment, because his mom told him, “The Lord said, ‘Don’t fear.’”
He said the process has taught him not to make fun of people, because nobody knows what they might be going through, and not to take life for granted.
Angela is working to create a T-shirt design with teachers at Casey Middle School for an upcoming fundraiser, she said.