October 3, 2012

Plattsburgh father, son both fight cancer


---- — PLATTSBURGH — A father and son are supporting one another as they both battle cancer.

Twenty-year-old Alex Fleming was diagnosed first, this past July. The psychology major, a junior at SUNY Plattsburgh, was fighting through persistent back pain while he went to school full time and worked two jobs.

But the back pain proved to be caused by a tumor in his abdomen that was pressing on a nerve. He and his parents, Shawn and Diane, learned that what had started out as testicular cancer had spread quickly to his abdomen, lungs and liver. 

Shawn, a pediatric nurse at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh, became Alex’s go-to person as he started his first three-month course of chemotherapy. Meanwhile, Shawn was noticing his own persistent hip pain while he juggled work and, with Diane, cared for his son. 

On Aug. 3, he learned that his hip pain was a symptom of stage 4 bone cancer. By the time he was diagnosed, the malignancy had spread into his lungs. 


The caregiver had become the patient.

“It’s hard to give myself up to being the patient,” Shawn said recently from his Plattsburgh home. “When I got taken out of work, that was stressful.”

There are about 80 known types of bone cancer, he explained, with no specific treatment for any of the identified types. His bone cancer, however, is not identifiable. If an initial round of chemotherapy isn’t successful, doctors will try another, hoping for the best.

“We kind of joke about it (their cancers),” Shawn said. “That’s kind of a coping skill. I think it has brought us closer together.” 


Shawn has had one surgery already to remove tumors from one of his lungs and has just started his own course of chemotherapy at the Vermont Cancer Center in Burlington. 

While the Flemings are dealing with the physical and psychological shock of the catastrophic illnesses, the financial clouds are gathering. Shawn and Alex haven’t been able to work since their diagnoses; Alex has had to take the semester off, as well.

And an earlier knee injury forced Diane to leave her job, too. She had been scheduled for surgery when Alex was diagnosed. 

Her surgery has since been put off indefinitely.


Diane’s sister Carrie McDonald and other family members have organized a raffle to help the Flemings with their everyday expenses, as well as the growing cost for therapy-related travel and incidentals. Friends and local businesses have come together to donate items for the raffle, but more help is needed. Currently, more than 50 prizes are up for grabs. 

The headline prize, so far, is a Thompson black powder rifle, donated by Dick’s Country Store in Churubusco, where it is on display.

Shawn said what has touched him the most is the outpouring of support he, Alex and Diane have received from friends and family. 

“It’s people who care about you, wanting to do something to help. People are always offering their help, so what do you tell them to do?”

HOW TO HELP A raffle has been organized to help the Fleming family with expenses, with the drawing set for Nov. 2 at the American Legion post in Chateaugay; winners need not be present when their names are drawn. Buy tickets, priced at $5 each, at Dick's Country Store in Churubusco; Jreck Subs and Lucky Strike Lanes in Malone; or by contacting Sue Hebert or Stacey Wood at CVPH Medical Center. McDonald can also be contacted directly for tickets. Carrie McDonald, who is selling tickets, too, has also set up a Facebook page at in support of the fundraiser. Businesses and individuals who'd like to donate items can reach Carrie McDonald at 497-3235 or call or text 651-7930.