It’s a familiar scene, found in photos and movies and memories. But when Andrew Rogers pedaled, father Rodney chased him with his IV pole. In this story, Andrew was fresh out of surgery, one of more than 40 he’s had in his young life.
Diagnosed with cancer Nov. 17, 1999, at 3½ years old, Andrew has fought off the disease in his liver, lungs and head. He was bombarded with antibiotics, received necessary radiation to the head and chemotherapy, a combination that made him severely hearing impaired. His father and mother took Andrew to hospitals and treatment centers in Augusta, Philadelphia, Atlanta and other places to get surgery, chemotherapy and whatever else was needed.
That boy on the tricycle is now 17, a straight-A student at Greenbrier High School and, most importantly, considered cancer-free. His dad and mother, Linda, have their miracle child.
Andrew is also living out a dream. Thanks to a chance encounter on a cruise this summer, the loyal Louisiana State University fan got to stand on the sidelines Saturday, when the team took the field at Death Valley in Baton Rouge, La., against Southeastern Conference rival Auburn.
“I never thought beating cancer was such a big deal,” Andrew said in a text message from the game Saturday night. “I usually just told myself I wanted to beat cancer just like LSU beats Auburn! Being here, meeting players and being on the sideline was such a blessing and the best day I ever had!”
What started as pain and discomfort in Andrew’s shoulder and right side led to worries of appendicitis. Once the appendix was taken out, the doctors said something on the liver didn’t look right. With a blood test, the one-in-a-million fears proved true: Andrew had cancer in the liver.
The first transplant, from his mother’s sister, didn’t take. Mom was up next. Doctors said her liver was too small and that it was going to be a temporary solution until they could get another.
But it worked, and what was supposed to be a bridge became permanent. The roller-coaster had a temporary smooth run, but the bumpy ride wasn’t over.
The cancer soon hit his lungs, then found his brain. However, thanks to the doctors, the almost-zero percent chance of survival was just a number. Desperation and hope led to different procedures, including delivering chemo directly into the abdominal cavity.
At one point during the long process, Andrew was in an intensive care unit for six months.
“He’s literally the six-million-dollar man,” his mother Linda said.
As Rodney sees it, the doctors were angels on Earth.
“The surgeon said, ‘Don’t thank me. God says he’s got a purpose for that little boy in there,’ ” said Linda, a nurse. “Sure enough, he’s touched a lot of lives. And now he’s eight years,
this month, cancer-free, considered cured.”
Family members put their faith in doctors and each other because that’s all they could do. After that, they said it was up to God.
“We had a great physician in charge,” Linda Rogers said.
Dr. Gregory Halligan, the chief of oncology at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, has been with Andrew since he was first diagnosed. Though Andrew’s family was always determined, Halligan said there wasn’t anything “Mary Poppins” about them. They knew there was no miracle bag that had the solutions.
Halligan said some physicians even told the family that they should stop trying, believing it would be the best option for all. They thought there was no chance for Andrew’s survival and that continuing would be useless and cruel.
But no one was ready to quit.
“I learned then. Kids are tough – they’re resilient,” Rodney said. “Our biggest fear was he would get tired of this stuff and just give up. But the doctor told us, ‘Kids don’t do that. As long as they have somebody beside them, they’ll do what you do. As long as you go, they’ll go.’ ”
Andrew and his parents would sometimes make return trips to Philadelphia just days after returning home.
“He’s just defied all odds,” Halligan said. “It’s a family that wouldn’t be denied a cure. There was never an issue of, ‘Do you want to do something?’ It’s, ‘When do you want to do it?’ We just refused to let this child succumb to cancer. They decided this kid was going to survive.”
Because of his hearing problems, teachers often thought Andrew was shy. In a way, he was, at least until someone asked him about LSU. Then the trick was getting him to stop talking. Andrew even wrote a paper about his hero, quarterback Matt Flynn, who led LSU to its second BCS National Championship in the 2007 season.
It would be accurate to call the Rogers home an LSU shrine. Purple-and-yellow pompoms sit on top of lamps, and LSU helmets adorn the fireplace. In another room, Andrew, sitting on an LSU rug and holding a purple controller with an LSU logo, will play as the Tigers in a video game.
On the walls sit Tigers footballs and an LSU calendar, with the Tigers’ season schedule handwritten.
On Sept. 28, when LSU visits Georgia, “Im going!!!” is penned on the date.
Andrew has been to Baton Rouge for a few LSU home games. He even met some players and former Tigers assistant Bo Pelini, now the head coach of Nebraska, before the 2005 SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. He also has a signed football from that team.
Most of his LSU viewing has been through TV or in person in Atlanta. But no matter where the family watches, it’s a fight to get a seat away from the yelling Tigers fan.
“The teachers bet on him, with what colors he’s going to wear today,” his mother said. “Of course, if it’s purple and gold, they’re going to win.”
This weekend, Andrew completed his LSU bucket list by getting a tour and standing on the field as the Tigers entered. Scott Ballard, who is on the school’s board of supervisors, made it happen. The two met while playing bingo when Andrew and his family were on a cruise this summer.
Just by looking at what Andrew was wearing, Ballard knew he was meeting a faithful Tiger.
Once the two started talking, Ballard was immediately drawn to the young man with the contagious smile and the big heart.
“It was a dream of his,” Ballard said. “Surely Andrew deserves some good in his life; he’s had enough bad. It was just a dream I could fulfill.”
Cindy Dunn-Kearly, a special education teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing in Columbia County, is Andrew’s case manager. But the family considers her true title to be Andrew’s “second mama.”
She’s been working with him since Andrew was in the fifth grade, answering any late-night school questions and looking out for his best interests.
Because Andrew’s eyes are his ears, he has to read people’s lips to understand what they’re saying. Dunn-Kearly is quick to point out the need for closed captioning or for teachers to not turn their backs when speaking.
There’s love in her protection of Andrew, whose infectious personality has created an extended family that includes Dunn-Kearly. She’s also teaching him American Sign Language for his foreign language credit; his sister Brittney still sometimes comes into class to learn herself.
Through the years, Dunn-Kearly has seen Andrew ace tests, including a recent physics test that caused many students to struggle.
“It’s him. I don’t do physics,” Dunn-Kearly said. “I take the notes – I don’t understand a bit of it. I just give him the notes.”
Andrew has a different interpretation.
Who’s his favorite teacher?
“That’s like asking me if I support Alabama,” he said, deadpanning while pointing to Dunn-Kearly.
Andrew didn’t have a normal childhood. Weeks if not months were spent in doctors’ care for tests or surgeries. But there were Crash Bandicoot video games, picnics along the way to hospitals and other trips to brighten the seemingly endless darkness.
Now Andrew gives back. He’s active like any teenager, playing basketball. He’s also an assistant coach for a local football team made up of underprivileged children.
His ordeal has left a lasting mark. Andrew’s oldest sister, Ashley, has a special needs teaching degree; Brittney is a pre-med student at Georgia Regents University.
The miracle child isn’t done yet.
“We’ve had so many, what I call God things. I’ve seen or heard things through this ordeal, people look at me because they think I’m crazy.
“And I don’t care,” Rodney said. “God is great.”
“Amen,” Andrew said.