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Beating cancer and earning As

YA_Brain Tumor
DIEDRA LAIRD - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
Portrait of Drew VanDyke at the Arboretum Mall pond area. He stayed in school despite treatments for a brain tumor and now is about to celebrate his 10th birthday. Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

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  • More Young Achievers
  • Meet Drew Van Dyke

    Age: 10.

    School: Fourth-grader at Providence Spring Elementary

    Favorite sports: Baseball, golf and basketball. Plays first, second and third base and outfield for the Matthews Athletic & Recreation Association.

    Hobby: Learning to play guitar.

    Dream job: Architect, like his dad, or pro baseball player.

    Favorite MLB team: New York Yankees.



Drew Van Dyke, who just celebrated his 10th birthday, asked just one question when the doctor told him he had a brain tumor in April 2012.

“When am I going to die?”

Drew recalls this moment serenely.

His family never got a specific timeline, but his mother said that from their research online, his time appeared to be short.

But more than a year later, Drew is cancer free. And, on the rebound from cancer treatments, he has managed not just to return to a normal life but also excel in school.

The discovery began when Drew’s mom, Dawn Van Dyke, fussed at him about his penmanship. He told her he couldn’t see which line he was supposed to write on.

Then at baseball, Drew, then 8 and on the all-star team, was swinging wildly at bat. “When the ball was coming to me, I saw two balls up to bat. I just chose one and swung at it,” Drew said.

After seeing an optometrist, then getting a second opinion, Drew had an MRI scan.

He had a brain tumor, between 2 and 2.5 centimeters in size and growing fast.

He missed the end of second grade at Providence Spring Elementary. After biopsies that summer, he learned the tumor was inoperable.

“We were praying every night and every morning,” Drew said. Then he got better news: It was a germinoma tumor, treatable by radiation or chemotherapy.

Drew chose radiation because that had a higher success rate of destroying the tumor. He went to Duke University hospitals, because doctors there had successfully treated germinoma before.

Drew’s last radiation treatment was on a Friday. He started school the next Monday.

Treatments meant he was often wide awake at 4 a.m. “I didn’t feel so good, but all the time I was trying.”

First quarter was difficult, as doctors told Drew he was coping with post-traumatic stress, but he still made the A/B honor roll. Dawn said homework took two to three times longer to complete, but he’d refuse to stop doing it, even when she and her husband gave him excuses to go to bed.

“I felt like I had to do it,” Drew said with a shrug.

Drew’s third-grade teacher, Chris Grabon, said Drew had to learn to accept doing his best and not always getting perfect grades.

“He was very hard on himself because he was excellent in everything,” he said. Grabon noticed a marked – and positive – difference after doctors told Drew he was finally cancer-free, last October.

“He is fun-loving, jovial, gets along with his peers, very athletic,” Grabon said. “He’s not afraid to face a challenge.”

He’s been doing a good job: He finished third grade with straight As and celebrated his birthday by riding on the back of his doctor’s motorcycle for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Ride for Kids.

This experience “has brought me way closer to God,” Drew said. “I know I can trust him now because he got me through this.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294
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