LEON, W.Va. — It’s been a long road for 12-year-old Chayston Handley of Leon, who has been battling brain cancer for over a year.
But with his final chemo treatment over and the ceremonial bell rung, Chayston is now spending his days finding a “new normal.”
The son of Kendra and Richard Joslin, Chayston was diagnosed in April 2015 with a brain tumor, after suffering months of severe headaches and nausea. He had his last chemo treatment on March 3 and was the first in history to ring the survivor bell at Cabell-Huntington Hoops Children’s Hospital, a bell his family provided.
“At Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, they have a cancer survival bell that every kid gets to ring to signify they’ve finished their treatments or that they’re cancer-free,” Kendra said. “Cabell-Huntington opened the Hoops Children’s Hospital and they didn’t have a bell. Chayston wanted to change that and was very passionate that Cabell-Huntington receive a bell, so that’s just what we did.”
Kendra said now there is a tradition for all the childhood cancer fighters who have completed their cancer journeys to pass along. She said while the family provided the bell, the plaque on the wall was donated by Hurricane Trophy of Hurricane.
“When I heard Chayston ring the bell, it was the most amazing feeling,” the mother continued. “Chayston has fought so hard and has been through so much. Him ringing the bell signified him beating the beast known as childhood cancer.”
Although things for Chayston’s family are still not as they were prior to his diagnosis, they are finding their “new” normal.
Chayston, a seventh grader, is now home-schooled, although his parents hope to have him return to public school part-time next year, gradually working his way up to going back full-time. While he formerly spent afternoons after school playing outside with his dog, now he spends more time playing Legos and video games. Walking around outside is limited to “good days” because he tires easily.
Kendra said Chayston still has oncology appointments weekly to have his labs drawn, as well as appointments with other specialists. Every three months brings an MRI of his brain to make sure the tumor hasn’t returned, and Chayston is still dealing with a few issues from his brain surgery that doctors are working on.
Kendra added she is proud of her son and how he handled the past year.
“Chayston is amazing,” she said. “His faith in God has never wavered and he always remains positive and upbeat.”
It is easy to see where Chayston’s strong faith comes from, however. Kendra said many lessons were learned during the ordeal.
“We’ve learned that you need God,” she stated. “Without God to hand Chayston’s tumor over to, I don’t know how we would have made it through everything we did. It’s not in our hands when a loved one gets sick. You have to let go and let God take over.”
She also credits the strong support of the community in easing their journey.
“Our community is the absolute best,” Kendra said. “Their support made a horrible time a little easier. Everyone has been so welcoming and supportive. I honestly believe we are where we are because of all the prayers everyone has sent up. We’ve had churches from all different states contact us for prayer and to say Chayston is on their prayer lists.”
“We still welcome prayers,” she continued. “The chemo is over and the tumor is gone, but Chayston still has more to endure.”
In fact, Chayston was admitted to the hospital Sunday. According to Kendra, he’s “neutropenic,” which means his blood count and immune system have completely bottomed out. He had a fever on top of that, so he was admitted until his counts start to recover and his fever is gone for 24 hours. He remained hospitalized on Monday.
In the meantime, Chayston has become somewhat of a local celebrity. The Point Pleasant varsity basketball team honored him at their last home game, making Chayston their sixth man for the night.
And for the parents of healthy children, Kendra has some advice:
“Never, ever take your time with your loved ones for granted. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Time and memories with family are priceless. Don’t get upset with your kids over the little things. Instead, be thankful that your kids are in good health and you have another day with them.”
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing who lives in Mason County.