final journey

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2013

BOSTIAN HEIGHTS — Six weeks after giving birth to son Damon, Cheryl Wyrick returned to the hospital for a follow-up appointment.
It was Feb. 2, 2011. The 26-year-old mother of two and her husband had just escaped a brief scare — Damon was born with fluid on his brain.
But he was soon released from the doctor’s care and things were improving. She was looking forward to going back to work.
Her hospital visit should have been short. It should have been routine.
Wyrick had put off the visit to focus on her son’s health. She now credits the timing of that visit — and her son — with giving her an extra year to live.
Cheryl Wyrick has stage-four cancer. She hopes to see the end of March.
Her yellow skin, a product of jaundice, signifies her failing liver. Her liver, she said, is what will kill her.
Things have gone from bad to worse in the two years since she was first diagnosed.
But Cheryl made a wish this fall that friends intend to fulfill. She wants to go to Florida, to Disney World.
It would be her first family vacation, she said.
Martha Foster, Wyrick’s aunt, is just one of a group working “behind-the-scenes,” Foster said, to put on a yard sale Saturday at Southside Baptist Church, in the 500 block of Morlan Park Road, near the intersection with Jake Alexander Boulevard. All proceeds will go to funding an immediate trip to the Magic Kingdom.
“We’re pushing for the end of the month,” Foster said. “I don’t know how much more time she’s got.”
Several friends have already donated items, even trucks full, of goods to be sold for the growing fund.
Relatives spoke to a local travel agency. They hoped to put Wyrick, her husband and two children on a bus to Orlando.
But tumors in her hips prevent Wyrick from sitting for long stretches. They now are hoping to get plane tickets.
As she sat on the couch of her Safrit Drive mobile home Wednesday afternoon, Wyrick smiled as the topic turned to Damon, now 2 years old, and Aiden, 6, riding the Disney classic “It’s A Small World.”
As Damon played in a back room of the home, she stopped.
“Did you hear that? He’s saying Buzz,” Wyrick said, referencing Pixar’s popular “Toy Story” hero.
She choked back sobs.

“I can’t wait for him to see Buzz.”
Wyrick doesn’t have life insurance.
“At 26 years old, you don’t think about buying life insurance,” she said. “Now nobody will give it to me. They’ll give it to me, but if I die of anything to do with this cancer, they won’t pay. And I’m going to die from this cancer.”
Wyrick was declared cancer free four months after doctors found tumors in her abdomen in February 2011.
She still credits her son as the reason doctors were able to catch the cancer early the first time.
“They said, ‘If you hadn’t come in, we never would have found it,’ ” Wyrick said.
Three times a week, she traveled to Duke University Medical Center in Durham for treatments in 2011. When the cancer returned last summer, she began going once a week and later started clinical trials.
Dr. Richard Riedel, an oncologist at Duke University, called Wyrick’s type of cancer “extraordinarily rare.”
“Despite being a center with expertise in sarcomas, we probably only see a couple of cases a year, which speaks to the rarity of the disease,” Riedel said.
Wyrick has desmoplastic small-round-cell tumors, a sarcoma subtype most commonly found in young boys. Only about 100 cases a year are reported.
Riedel treats Wyrick during her visits to Duke, but he spoke in general terms of the disease Thursday.
Wyrick’s cancer, also known as DSRCT, is difficult to survive, because of both lack of effective treatments and the aggressive disease itself. Typically starting in the abdomen, DSRCT can go undiagnosed despite rapid tumor growth.
“By the time something gets big enough to develop problems,”Riedel said, tumors may already have spread to multiple organs.
Doctors explore all options when treating DSRCT patients. Riedel said combinations of radiation and multi-agent chemotherapy are used to combat the aggressive disease.
But the odds for a happy ending remain slim.
The five-year survival rate, is “only about 15 percent,”Riedel said.
On Wednesday morning, Wyrick learned her liver was quickly failing. She’s now expected to live weeks, not months as previously thought.
At night, she writes letters to those who have supported her through the treatments. The writings won’t be distributed until the funeral.
She entered into hospice care on Jan. 31. Through a hospice coordinator, Wyrick will soon begin filming home videos for her children to watch as they get older.
Wyrick described the past two years as an “emotional roller coaster.” She has since stopped all treatment.
“I want to live the rest of my life as normal as possible,” Wyrick said, wiping away tears, “and spend as much time with my boys as I can.”
Photos of her young family hung above the couch where she sat watching her sons play Wednesday.
The woman pictured had long hair and full cheeks. She stood in stark contrast with the thin woman now holding her 6-year-old.
Wyrick has survived on food stamps and Medicaid since October, when she became too sick to continue working at the Kangaroo gas station in China Grove.
She doesn’t have a phone, cable or Internet.
“We’ve never had a family vacation before,” she said. “It would be nice to have that before I left.”
Although Wyrick has never been to Disney World, it’s been a childhood dream. She planned to take her kids to Disney when they got older, when they would remember it.
Now she’s trying to make as many memories as possible.
“My youngest son, he won’t remember me except through pictures,”she said. “That’s why I decided to stop the treatment. I wanted to spend time with my boys.”

What: Yard Sale with proceeds going to fund Disney trip for Cheryl Wyrick
When: Saturday, Feb. 16. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Southside Baptist Church, fellowship hall, 500 Morlan Park Road, Salisbury