'I will fight' is Whitehall 11-year-old's mantra in cancer battle
Michelle Dyer had just signed the waiver that day, agreeing she wouldn't sue the hospital or the doctors if her 11-year-old boy were to die.
Yet, as she walked into the playroom at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, her young son, who nearly lost his life to cancer, lifted her spirits.
Using pieces of lime green and blue cardboard paper, Zach Dyer created a poster that would hang on his hospital wall for the remainder of his stay, with the saying, “I will fight.”
“I was speechless,” Michelle, 38, said. “Here's this 11-year-old boy who can barely keep his eyes open. He's so drowsy from all of the medication and he's sitting there making this poster, determined to fight this.”
Zach Dyer of Whitehall was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer that spreads between lymph node groups, in April. He is scheduled to start his fourth round of chemotherapy this week.
And as this blue-eyed boy who loves to draw, build Lego creations and put together puzzles, continues to fight cancer, the Whitehall community has rallied around him to show support, making bracelets, T-shirts and hosting fundraisers to help the Dyer family.
“This community is amazing,” Michelle said. “The people you don't even know that come up to you and want to help. ... It's just indescribable, unexplainable, how amazing they are.”
A fundraiser is planned at Princess Lanes and Prior's Tap & Tavern on Saturday at 7 p.m. to raise money for the family.
Zach Dyer, who attended Whitehall Elementary last year and will be in sixth grade at J.E. Harrison in the fall, was a healthy young boy, his mother said. He rarely complained of aches and pains.
In mid-April, Zach told his mother about a rash on his face, which he assumed was poison ivy. It was then that Michelle, who volunteers as an emergency medical technician at Ross/West View Emergency Medical Services and works as a patient care technician at UPMC Montefiore Hospital in the transplant/intensive care unit, noticed the lump on his neck.
When the lump didn't go down, Michelle took Zach to Children's Hospital. Working in the field, Michelle knew from the doctors actions alone that it was bad, she said. But the single-mother said she still was not prepared for the diagnosis.
“You never prepare yourself for news like that,” she said.
It took doctors two days to safely sedate Zach to determine his final diagnosis, Michelle said. They found tumors in his neck, lungs, spleen and ones that almost consumed his entire chest cavity, she said.
“They didn't even know how he was alive,” Michelle said. “At any moment, his life could have just ended.”
After three rounds of chemotherapy, the tumors have shrunk a bit in size. Yet, he still has at least three more rounds to go.
Through it all, the youngster has stayed positive.
“His attitude is absolutely wonderful,” Michelle said. “He's a bouncing 11-year-old boy.... When we go out, we take it easy. ... If he has concerns, we talk about them. We address them and we let them go.
“We're going to get through this,” she said.
Lemonade stands, rainbow bracelet sales and larger scale fundraisers, like the one at the Brentwood VFW last week or the one planned for Princess Lanes this weekend, were held to show support for the Dyers.
Maggie Kastroll, 10, of Baldwin Borough, doesn't even know Zach Dyer. She heard about him during an orchestra event at Paynter Elementary and decided she wanted to help.
She sold $250 worth of hand-made rainbow bracelets to her classmates to raise money for the boy.
“She said she wanted to do something for him,” her mother, Patty Kastroll, said.
As she was selling the bracelets, Maggie was at Century Square Shopping Center when she saw a boy who resembled Zach. It was him and she was able to meet the youngster she had been working to help for several months, Patty Kastroll said.
Maggie wrote a letter and enclosed it with the money she collected to give to Zach.
Family and friends also sold plastic bracelets imprinted with Zach's slogan, “I will fight,” Michelle said.
When they asked Zach to pick out the colors, he chose lime green and purple. Later, the family found out those were the colors of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
“He just chose them out of the blue,” Michelle said.
Staffers at Prior's Tap & Tavern, where Michelle Dyer also works as a bartender and supervisor, wanted to help.
The event Saturday will be geared toward family-friendly fun at Princess Lanes, so the Dyer family, too, hopefully can participate and enjoy a moment away from their now-stressful life, said Princess Lanes marketing manager Kelly Joyce.
“It's centered around them,” Joyce said. “We wanted to do something for her family, because she's a part of ours.”
The support for Michelle, Zach, son Jordan and daughter Kendra is helping the family get through this difficult time, Michelle said. Their faith in God, too, is keeping them strong.
“People ask me how I'm doing it,” Michelle said. “I'm just being carried.”
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.