CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - So he’s 22. Not exactly a “kid”. But after getting diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma late last year – a rare bone cancer most common in children and young adults – John Latham has had a rough go of it.
All he wants to do is get back to fighting fires.
John grew up in West Jefferson. He was a cub scout, loved the outdoors and joined his dad as a volunteer firefighter by the time he was 13. He graduated Ashe County High School in 2014, became an active volunteer firefighter at the age of 18 for Fleetwood Volunteer Fire & Rescue and started attending Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College to study Horticulture.
While working part-time at Walmart and going to college two years ago, John started experiencing leg pain in his lower left knee and leg. He was limping, but doctors kept saying it was inflammation and he just “needed to wear better shoes while working”.
After multiple doctor visits and misses on what was really going on, John was FINALLY diagnosed with cancer a year later.
He started chemo last October at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital Cancer Center in Winston-Salem. Five days of treatment every six weeks and a surgery earlier this year to remove the tumor and salvage his limb.
I wish that was the end of the story.
In some ways, it was just the beginning.
Doctors soon learned the muscle flap in John’s leg had died and they had to do a second surgery to undo everything from the first one. Metal rods were put in his leg, tied together with a steel cable. He was put in a straight brace and ON THAT SAME DAY, John’s dad had a heart attack and was flown to the same hospital to have triple bypass surgery.
Things seemed stable for two months. Then the cable holding the rods together in John’s leg broke.
Although he was in severe pain, the doctors said they couldn’t stop the routine of his needed-chemo for another surgery. So they put him on daily pain meds instead. He just finished chemotherapy few weeks ago, and is waiting to hear if he’s stable enough for another surgery next month to save his leg.
“My son has had a long road and it’s far from over,” his mom Martie told me. “But he has faith he’ll reclaim his life in the future.”
Part of that future involves fiancé, MaryMorgan Arrington. They recently got engaged; John’s mom says she was with him throughout this battle.
Interestingly enough, studies show firefighters have a 60 percent more chance of getting cancer. The International Association of Firefighters says cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters. The CDC also says it has tracked nearly 30,000 firefighters across the country in 2010, and found they have higher rates of cancer (more on that study here >> https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/firefighters/health.html)
“One of his hobbies is collecting patches for his Fire and EMS patch collection,” Martie said. “We’d love if anyone wanted to send one his way.”
If you’d like to mail one to John, you can send it to the Volunteer Fire Department where he’s hoping to return soon.
Fleetwood Volunteer Fire and Rescue
P.O. Box 280
Yes. 22 is not exactly a “kid”. But pediatric cancer can hit everyone and John is not exception.
Thank you so much, John, for letting us feature your battle.
And thank you again for what you do.
**Editor’s note: This is about one of #MollysKids, children WBTV Anchor Molly Grantham follows closely on her Facebook page. It was first published there, which is why it’s written in a personal way. For years Molly has followed hundreds of kids with uphill medical battles. Find this story and updates on all #MollysKids here.**