There’s much that Kamehameha senior Keaton Wong would love to do if he still could.
He’d love to spend all day every day at the beach, just like those not-so-long-ago summers of his youth. But the port for his feeding tube makes that impossible.
He’d love to be on the football field, following his blockers as a running back or snagging passes as a wide receiver, just like that year he spent on the Warriors junior varsity team, but the pressure of the tumor against his spinal column has left him paralyzed below the ribs.
Heck, he’d love to be with his friends in school right now if he could only find the strength, but it takes all the strength he has just to make it through the day.
"My immediate goal is just getting to the next day," says Wong matter-of-factly. "I don’t really think about the long term as much."
Wong was just a sophomore when he found out the pain in his abdomen wasn’t a muscle pull, as doctors first suspected, but rather neuroblastoma, a deadly cancer that develops in nerve tissue. The cancer had advanced to stage IV by the time it was discovered, but Wong and his father, Newton, made the commitment to battle it as aggressively as possible.
That effort would encompass everything from chemotherapy, surgery and radiation to bone marrow transplant, stem cell treatment and traditional Hawaiian healing practices.
Throughout the struggle, Wong drew strength from his father, two brothers and extended family (his mother died when he was in fourth grade), as well as from buddy Jordan Thibodeau and a host of other close friends who visited him in the hospital, hung out with him at home and welcomed him back each time he returned to school.
And for a time the treatments seemed to work. Wong made it through his junior year feeling "almost normal."
It wouldn’t last.
This past summer, doctors discovered the highly adaptive cancer had returned with a vengeance.
"The prognosis is not good," says Newton Wong. "We just try to get to one goal at a time."
The first was to make it to Friday’s Kamehameha Schools Song Contest. Wong didn’t want to sit back and watch from a wheelchair, and his friends weren’t about to mark one of the biggest nights of their senior year without Wong at their side. So his classmates locked arms and carried him to his spot near the back of the chorus, where his soft but determined voice joined theirs one last time.
"He just wanted to be there to celebrate with his classmates like a normal kid," Newton Wong says. "I don’t cry very much, but I cried then out of admiration for him and gratitude for everyone who has helped us."
There are still goals left to accomplish: prom, perhaps, maybe even graduation. In the meantime, Wong is enjoying the time he has the best he can.
"I’m basically easygoing," he says. "As long as I’m in a room with people that I care about — my family and friends — even if we’re not doing anything, I could stay there forever."
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.