The comeback kid

Liberty High sophomore Andrew Cross says faith and a good attitude have helped him over the hurdles in life as he battles with leukemia

Cross county

September 10, 2006|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Every so often, Andrew Cross finds the energy to go for a jog. He doesn't push himself too hard or travel too far.

Every step, however, brings the Liberty High School sophomore closer to his dream.

He wants to run again.

Cross, who a year ago burst onto the local running scene to become one of the area's promising cross country and track performers, now battles leukemia, a cancer of the blood that will affect about one in every 8,500 Americans this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Through medical advances, patients diagnosed early are now surviving at rates never before imagined, though they must first endure months and sometimes years of draining chemotherapy treatments.

"It helps a lot if you just have a good attitude about it and have faith that you're going to get through it," said Cross, who celebrated his 15th birthday on Thursday.

To Cross, cancer is just one more hill to climb.

He first learned of his illness in June, just two weeks after running a leg on Liberty's winning 3,200-meter relay team at the Class 2A state championships. He had developed a fever of more than 100 degrees during the final week of school, but no other apparent symptoms.

Doctors sent him for blood work, which revealed a low white cell count. They then admitted him to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where a bone marrow biopsy confirmed the illness.

The news "was just like wildfire," teammate Eric Liberatore said. "I got like 10 different calls that day saying that he had leukemia, and I was just totally devastated."

Surgeons implanted a special port in Cross' chest to enable him to receive intravenous chemotherapy -- the use of special drugs designed to destroy cancerous cells.

"You say to yourself, `How does this happen? How does somebody who is this healthy, who's that athletic, who has done so well, how does he have leukemia in his body?' " said his mother, Cindy Cross.

Teammates were quick to offer their support, swarming their friend with hospital visits and phone calls and lining the family's driveway with more than 100 hand-made signs that they stuck on stakes and hung from trees upon his return home.

"From Day 1, as soon as the first person found out, they just rallied around him with people coming to the hospital, phone calls, cards ... all kinds of things," Cindy Cross said.

Last Monday, several hundred local runners and supporters turned out for the Eldersburg Rogue Runners' one mile "Cross Walk," held in conjunction with their 5K road race at Liberty. Proceeds will go to help defray Cross' medical expenses.

The cancer went into remission after a month of chemo treatments. Cross -- who has defied the odds by keeping his full head of curly blond locks -- will continue to receive chemotherapy each Friday until roughly the end of this school year, when doctors will re-evaluate his condition.

Even with the fatigue and the aches and pains, Cross hasn't lost his desire to compete. He attends cross country practice each day he's in school, lending support to teammates and helping mentor younger runners.

"It gives me inspiration to try harder at practice," Liberatore said. "When you see him on your run, it just makes you run harder and think of what you can do this season for him."

Cross said that the discipline and determination he's developed from running has helped him get through the past few months.

"I would like to try to come back," said Cross, who finished sixth in the county last cross country season and claimed state titles in the 3,200 relay indoors and outdoors. "I think the earliest would be outdoor track ... but I'm pretty sure I'll be back next year for cross country."

Cindy Cross said that her family has been calmed by their faith and by Andrew's attitude.

"When I found out, I was just like, `All right. I've got to get through this,' " Andrew said.

And he's doing just that -- step by step.

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