Local cancer patient brings hope to others through blog
WHITEWATER—When Caleb Hatchett was diagnosed with stage 4 bone cancer, he waited for people to say the right thing, for people to tell him something that would make his grim diagnosis seem OK.
But Caleb discovered the answer long before anyone else.
“You found the answer in yourself: There is more to life than here, than right now,” Tina Hatchett, Caleb's mother, said in the family's Whitewater home.
Caleb, 20, was diagnosed in April with ewing sarcoma, a cancerous tumor that grows in the soft tissue around bones or in the bones.
He was 19.
Each year in the United States, about 200 children and young adults are diagnosed with ewing sarcoma, an incidence of about one case per 1 million people of all ages, according to the National Cancer Institute.
For months, Caleb had been having shoulder pain he attributed to an ATV accident or to driving his stick-shift car daily to and from Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, where he was a nursing student.
But a doctor's visit at St. Mary's Janesville Hospital proved otherwise.
The tumor had surrounded Caleb's shoulder blade, leaving quarter-size holes in his bone. Later scans showed the cancer had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes.
Caleb has about a 30 percent chance of survival, not including the effect his Type I diabetes has on reducing his chances, he said.
The Hatchetts are familiar with hard news.
In the last five years, the family of seven has seen three of the youngest children--Hannah, Daniel and Caleb--diagnosed with Type I diabetes, Caleb diagnosed with cancer and Hannah diagnosed with epilepsy.
The family's doctors at American Family Children's Hospital, Madison, told the Hatchetts only five families in Wisconsin and only 67 families in the nation have three immediate family members with Type I diabetes.
Only four other people in the nation have both ewing's and Type I, Caleb said the doctors told him.
The family has no history of diabetes or cancer, Tina said.
Caleb's father, Scott, turned to the Internet in search of answers about Type I diabetes when Caleb became the third sibling diagnosed with diabetes in 2013.
Scott stumbled upon a blog, which later shared the Hatchetts' story. It helped convince Caleb to start writing Type One Trio, a blog chronicling his family's journey with Type I and now with epilepsy and cancer.
“I'm looking at losing my life. … Whether I die or not, I know what's happening once I die,” Caleb said. “What I'm doing now is trying to bring hope to those around me. If my blog can give hope in any way, then I have had a pretty good life.”
Since starting the blog two years ago, the blog has become a resource for families facing Type I diabetes and cancer.
Each of Caleb's posts garners about 7,000 hits across the world, and his email is constantly full with prayers, questions and praise, Caleb said.
The blog is how Caleb processes the difficulties of his life.
It's a place where he shares what he is going through via words and photos.
Caleb, the man whose smile and laugh can fill any room, has no qualms with sharing photos of how radiation left burns on his feet. Why? Because it's part of the reality of treating cancer, he said.
The 20-year-old has become friends with others battling ewing's and diabetes through the blog and other online forums and support groups.
The Hatchetts have traveled across the state to talk to families deciphering medical lingo and managing Type I.
“It's like learning a foreign language in a week,” Tina said.
The goal of the blog is to help people know they aren't alone and that other people once feared pricking themselves to check their blood sugar and struggled to adjust to counting carbohydrates.
Many families would be dragged down by the flurry of diagnoses, but the Hatchetts have grown closer and lift each another up.
“As a mom, it's an honor to walk alongside each of them and to care for them because love looks so different to me than before all of this sickness entered our lives,” Tina said with a gleaming smile as she looked at Caleb, who sat relaxed, rocking in a living room chair.
Caleb's personality is to hit things head-on.
The nurses at American Family Children's Hospital call him “Sunshine” because of his happy demeanor.
When Caleb was first diagnosed, he lost part of himself. He was shocked at how sick he was getting from radiation and chemotherapy. He lost sensation in his extremities and he wasn't his typical upbeat and outgoing self.
Caleb then decided that despite the odds he was--and still is-- facing, he was going to be the brightest bulb possible.
“When it comes to determining whether you're going to live or not, you don't really have a say,” Caleb said.
So, when he is spending three weeks out of the month at the hospital, he plays video games with children also being treated for cancer or plays jokes on the nurses after they paint his toenails while he's sleeping.
“If you be strong for the other kids, you can make the biggest difference in their lives.”
Caleb is choosing to laugh instead of cry, to make memories with his family because he doesn't know when his last could be. He is choosing not to let anything sway his dreams of becoming a pediatric oncology nurse.
“I went into nursing because I want to help people,” Caleb said. “That's what I want to live to do.”