LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 15, 2014) - The rough ride of cancer treatment hasn't thrown Drew Shryock out of the saddle. Hanging his ever-present cowboy hat on IV poles, the 6-year-old patient at the DanceBlue Kentucky Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic faces his treatment with the grit of John Wayne.
"We can either cowboy up, or sit and cry in the truck," Drew's mom Rebecca Shryock has said to him throughout treatment. The motto has carried Drew and his family through a battle with Leukemia that began two years ago.
Motivated by her son's resilience, Shryock founded the nonprofit 'Cowboy Up for a Cure' in 2013 to support families fighting childhood cancer. Funds raised are contributed to the DanceBlue Kentucky Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic where Drew receives treatment. In March, Cowboy Up for a Cure donated $50,000 to the clinic, which was matched by a donation through the University of Kentucky student-run DanceBlue event.
On April 17-18, Cowboy Up for a Cure will team up with the UK rodeo team, the Farmhouse fraternity and the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority for the inaugural Cowboy Up for a Cure Rodeo. Big Hat Rodeo Company will bring western-style entertainment from barrel racing to bull rides to rodeo clowns to the Alltech Arena in the Kentucky Horse Park from 7-9 p.m. each night. All proceeds from admission will be donated to Cowboy Up for a Cure.
Shryock, an alumnus of UK and the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, her sons Jackson, Drew and Colt, and husband Jeremy raise beef cattle on their Central Kentucky farm. After a trip showing cattle in July of 2012, Shryock noticed Drew was experiencing a strange cough. Shryock suspected a case of bronchitis, but test results revealed Drew had rapidly progressing form of Leukemia, which had led to a malignant mass forming near his heart.
An oncology team at Kentucky Children's Hospital led by Dr. Tom Badgett mapped out an aggressive three-year plan for treatment. Drew underwent an emergency surgery to remove malignant fluid around his heart right away. Drew's course so far has included a series of eight whole-brain radiation treatments, numerous chemotherapy infusions, spinal injections, transfusions, steroids, pain medications, occupational therapy, weekly visits to the clinic and more than 20 hospitalizations.
Shryock, a former nurse, said members of Drew's oncology team have become close as friends through the process. The level of care, compassion and professionalism she's experienced at Kentucky Children's Hospital prompted her decision to use Cowboy Up for a Cure's fundraising to establish new resources at the clinic.
"I feel so confident and comfortable with every single one of them there," Shryock said of the team at the pediatric cancer clinic. "They were the only people besides me and my husband that were able to give my son the gift of life - we owe them everything."
Dr. Badgett and the oncology team encountered a few unexpected complications through Drew's treatment, including a case of appendicitis and a hypotensive event. He said like many children fighting cancer, Drew has handled painful and fearful situations with grace and courage.
"Drew and his family are remarkable in that they just keep trucking, rolling right over the bumps in the road that many of us would call mountains," Dr. Badgett said. "Drew doesn’t let his illness or the treatments slow him down. He continues to be an active and engaging kid."
Today, Drew is attending his first year of kindergarten and playing in a tee-ball league. Now in the maintenance phase of his treatment plan, he still receives daily chemotherapy treatment but is scheduled to complete his treatment in October 2015. Shryock often refers to a quote from John Wayne: "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway." She said this sentiment sums up how tough children like Drew show grace and strength through tragedy.
"We've gotten to see what it really means to 'cowboy up,'"Shryock said. "(Drew's) never once complained. He's never been the child to say 'I can't; I won't.' He's been the child to pull himself up from the bootstraps."
To purchase $10 advance tickets to the Cowboy Up for a Cure Rodeo or for more information, visit http://www.cowboyupforacure.org. Tickets are $12 at the door.