Thirteen-year-old Connor Schuelke spent two weeks this summer at a Michigan music camp, where he practiced three hours a day in preparation for a memorized piano solo. “I like music because there’s so much diversity to it,” he says.
Connor’s own interests are just as diverse; he also enjoys swimming, Legos and flying lessons. But for much of 2014, he had to put all that aside and focus on overcoming cancer.
When Connor became ill in October 2013, doctors in his hometown of South Bend ruled out several other conditions before a CT scan at Memorial Hospital revealed a tumor in his leg. Connor’s mother Rachel Trinh is a nurse there and knew that in cases of pediatric cancer, Memorial works closely with Riley Hospital. “But when we were sent to Riley by ambulance (in late February 2014) for his initial workup, I was overwhelmed,” she recalls.
Riley Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon Daniel Wurtz, M.D., diagnosed metastatic Ewing sarcoma, a rare cancer that occurs in and around the bones. Under the care of Dr. Wurtz and Riley Pediatric Oncologist James Croop, M.D., Ph.D., Connor underwent chemotherapy from early March to June, then hip replacement surgery, and chemotherapy again through December 2014. A later surgery revised the hip replacement. His health continues to be monitored primarily in South Bend.
Connor says the key to getting through his treatment was to “stick with it and keep really busy.” With the help of his teachers at home and with the Riley School Program, the straight-A student kept up on his schoolwork.
Back at his school and in the parish community, people rallied on his behalf. Christ the King School has saved more than 3 million pop tabs for Ronald McDonald House (which houses Riley families), notes Principal Stephen Hoffman, who visited Connor in the hospital and observed his transition back into school.
“Connor stayed strong throughout everything every day,” Hoffman says. “He showed his classmates that strength and friendship is what it takes.”
Rachel says she is most proud of her son’s perseverance. “I wanted him to see that there was something more on the other side—that he would do great things,” she says. “His hard work was amazing.”
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