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.