MARSTON - Every individual who walks the survivors lap in Friday's New Madrid County American Cancer Society's Relay for Life has a story to tell. They can talk about their success in battling cancer and its impact on their lives.
Those who know him will tell you that there is no one braver or more determined in that battle than Jeremy Ferguson. After making the lap last year in his power wheelchair, Ferguson will take part in that survivor's lap for the first time Friday on his own two feet.
It is a real victory, said his wife, Christy Ferguson.
"Last year he didn't have the stamina or strength," added Mrs. Ferguson. "This year he is completely different, he is healthy and we knew we should get a team together."
Joining her in cheering Ferguson on through the lap will be Jeremy's Super Friends, a team of 17 family and friends who have backed the Marston resident's recovery efforts. They and many others will take part in the Relay for Life Friday and Saturday at the New Madrid County Central High School track.
In 1999, Ferguson began to suffer from blurred vision and headaches. The headaches, his wife recalled, increased in frequency and severity, causing dizziness.
The first diagnosis was an ear infection but when the headaches increased until he could no longer stand on his own, the couple went to the emergency room at Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau. A CAT scan, then an MRI showed a tumor on Ferguson's brain.
"That is when your world stops," said Mrs. Ferguson, who was joined at the hospital by Ferguson's parents, James and Mary Ferguson. The tumor was large enough to cause encephalitis, or a build-up of fluid on his brain.
From Southeast, doctors arranged for the him to be moved to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis for a series of tests and surgery. During surgery the doctors discovered a tumor so large it was completely blocking the flow of cerebral spinal fluid.
Heavy bleeding began as the surgeon removed the tumor. Over the eight hours of surgery, Ferguson would receive 19 units of blood.
"It was a complete shock to have a surgery nurse come to us in the waiting room to say that Jeremy was bleeding badly and the doctor was doing all he could to save him. Then the surgeon came to tell us that the bleeding had stopped, but Jeremy may not make it through the night," recalled Mrs. Ferguson.
While Ferguson made it through the night, there was still more bad news.
The tumor was cancerous. Doctors explained it was Medullablastoma, a recurring tumor primarily found in children.
The massive blood loss during surgery had damaged Ferguson's body. His immune system was depleted leaving him susceptible to infections and pneumonia and parts of his brain were damaged, impacting his speech, swallowing, coordination, body temperature and heart rate. Also more tumors were found on his spinal cord.
According to Mrs. Ferguson, her husband's prognosis was six months to a year to live. If he did survive doctors weren't sure what his quality of life would be like. "After that point, you just go on your prayers instead of a medical prognosis."
As his health began to return, Ferguson underwent radiation treatments in St. Louis for seven weeks. He transferred to St. Francis Rehab Center where he began physical, occupational and speech therapy while going through his first round of chemotherapy.
By mid-December 1999, Ferguson was allowed to go home.
The next year was filled with chemo treatments, doctor's appointments and in-home therapy. Mrs. Ferguson credits her husband's strong will and love of his family with enabling him to endure those days. And, she adds, there were a lot of prayers.
In February 2000, he was declared cancer free. Then there was the removal of the feeding tube, the return of his abilities such as swallowing, speech, handwriting - all monumental events for his family.
"We all knew that he was a fighter," said Mrs. Ferguson. " But he has gone above and beyond what anyone thought he could."
Now, she and others have joined the fight by taking part in the Relay for Life. According to local Relay for Life Chairman Ed Thomason there will be 35 teams and 600 residents participating.
There remain a few hurdles for Ferguson. As he works on his therapy he talks about when he will return to his job with the Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Co-Op or when he can again serve as a volunteer fireman for Marston and as a member of the New Madrid County Civil Defense.
But first there is that survivor's lap he intends to make. It will be an emotional moment, said Mrs. Ferguson.
"Last year I was just swelling with pride to see him go around in his power chair, I just can't imagine," she said, with a hint of tears as she spoke. "For him to be there and to be fighting for others it just says exactly what he is. He is a fighter first who won't give up and is ready to extend himself for other people."
The public is invited to watch the survivor's lap and other events throughout the evening at the high school track. Activities begin at 4:30 p.m. Friday with the walk under way at 7 p.m. and continuing until 7 a.m. Saturday.