"I got this, mom."
Kristin Dumser first heard those words almost four months ago when physicians told her 13-year-old son, Parker Kress, that the grapefruit-size lump in his leg marked a rare form of bone cancer known as Ewing’s sarcoma.
On numerous occasions since early December, Parker has looked his mother in the eye and repeated those comforting words, Dumser said.
While multiple rounds of chemotherapy treatment have helped shrink the tumor in his right leg, Parker’s positivity has built a tremendous support network that starts in his family’s Bettendorf home and stretches as far as England, the home of his favorite soccer team.
Parker said his first symptom — sharp ankle pain — arrived in October during a gym class at Pleasant Valley Junior High.
As the pain in his ankle transitioned to the rest of Parker’s leg, swelling drew concerns of a blood clot. By the time the lump on his calf increased to the size of a “softball,” Parker’s mother rushed him to the emergency room and then to Iowa City for a biopsy at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. On Dec. 6, physicians identified the lump as a cancerous tumor.
Fortunately, the cancer has not spread.
Only about 1 percent of all childhood tumors are in the Ewing category, according to the American Cancer Society. About 225 children and teens in North America are diagnosed with Ewing tumors per year.
Most Ewing tumors occur in teens, but some are found in young adults, the cancer society says on its website, cancer.org.
Looking back, the seventh-grader, who had planned to compete in organized sports at PV Junior High this school year, said he has been scared, but he tries to stay positive and focused on the future.
“He’s got this ‘let’s-get-this-behind-us’-type attitude,” Dumser said. “He just rolls with it.”
He isn’t fixed on the countless trips to Iowa City, the hair and appetite loss, or the innumerable headaches and nausea spells from chemotherapy.
Instead, Parker focuses on his goal of terminating his tumor, which he coined ‘Leonardo,’ because it “just sounded like an evil name,” he said.
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So far, Parker has undergone six cycles of chemotherapy treatment, which equates to about 30 overnight stays at the hospital in Iowa City.
For the past few weeks, however, Parker has enjoyed some time outside of the hospital with his family and friends at home during a break from chemotherapy treatment — an effort by his hospital team to boost his white blood cell count before Friday's surgery to remove the tumor.
Parker also will undergo reconstructive surgery to replace part of the bone affected by the tumor. The operation will stunt growth in his right leg so doctors also will “mess up” Parker’s growth plate in his left leg to make sure it doesn’t grow longer than his right leg.
Standing at 5 feet, 2 inches and 115 pounds, Parker even smiled when he addressed his height.
“I just thought I’d be taller," he said.
To help boost morale, Parker’s stepfather, Kevin Dumser, reached out to a few of Parker’s favorite professional athletes and sports teams, including Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Arsenal Football Club, a London-based professional soccer team that competes in English football’s Premier League.
In response, Rodgers and Arsène Wenger, manager of the European football club, have sent Parker memorabilia and personal letters of encouragement.
To help pay for Parker’s medical bills, Parker’s aunt, Jessica Brotherton, established bank accounts in Parker’s name and organized an April 11 benefit at Hopewell Elementary.
At PV Junior High, students designed a T-shirt to support their friend and classmate. In total, the school sold 225 shirts, raising $1,600 for Parker. A student council bake sale also raised $440.
While Parker only has attended school a few times since early December, the 13-year-old will advance to eighth grade next fall with the rest of his class.
Trampus Budde, principal at PV Junior High, said the school typically sets up a tutor to meet with students who miss consecutive days due to serious health issues.
“We can’t replicate everything done in the classroom, but we want to keep them as up to speed as possible,” Budde said.
While Parker's eager to start post-surgery recovery, Dumser said the entire process has been a positive life experience for her son, who has matured over the last few months.
“It’s changing him in good ways,” she said. “I find him comforting, when that should be my job for him."