SPRING HILL — Two young cancer survivors are setting the pace this weekend in a community effort to battle the killer disease.
A now perky Jazlyn Brown, 5, not only is honorary chair for this year's Relay for Life event, she will lead the Kids Walk at 9 a.m. today for participants at Nature Coast Technical High School, California Street off Powell Road.
Last year, at the inception of the Kids Walk, only Jazlyn stepped to the line. Today, she'll be joined by Devon Stayt, 15, a cancer survivor who has dedicated himself to raising awareness and funds for cancer research and care.
Jazlyn, four years in remission, and Devon, nine years in remission as of Friday, will carry physical and psychological remnants of their disease and treatment forever
A pre-kindergartener diagnosed at two weeks of age, Jazlyn has recently developed seizures. At the onset of the first such incident she was flown to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. So far, she has no learning problems, despite predictions by doctors, said her mother, Jasmine Rivera.
Devon, a freshman at Weeki Wachee High School, carries wire mesh in his abdomen, which prevents him from playing sports, taking part in physical education classes or any strenuous activities.
"I'll never have a good lower body, but I'd rather that than being (deceased)," he said. "I've come to deal with it. Sometimes it's a blessing but sometimes it sucks."
Devon has channeled his energies elsewhere. "I'm a fanatic at (video) games," he said.
And since enrolling in January at Weeki Wachee, he's become a math whiz under the instruction of Robert Croyle. Said the boy who formerly hated math, "(Now) I like to make problems that are impossible, possible. It gives you a sense of accomplishment."
The young teen was diagnosed with Burkitt non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 4. "I was weak all the time. I had a green tint and I was not eating properly," he said.
The Stayt family had just moved from Illinois to Atlanta. He was checked into Scottish Rite Children's Hospital there, where researchers had just completed a study of that particular cancer, Devon noted. "So we were in the right place at the right time."
Cancer had settled in lymph nodes in his intestines, "an odd place for it," the family was told.
Devon endured two surgeries in his abdomen — hence the wire mesh — then chemotherapy. The chemo resulted in horrific mouth sores. He was fed through an IV, then a feeding tube. For weeks on end he could put nothing in his mouth.
What did he hunger for? This week, he said, "I was little then, so it was probably McDonald's."
Although strong medications are no longer part of Devon's regimen, his gastro-intestinal system needs care. He carries Pepcid with him at all times, "for when my stomach decides to attack me, which is often."
Devon and his father, Mark Stayt, moved from Largo to Spring Hill last November. His mother's role is filled by Nicole Miller, who is Devon's father's girlfriend.
When the younger Stayt enrolled at Weeki Wachee, he said he was surprised the school had never taken part in the Relay for Life.
"That disturbed me," Devon said. "Every school should have one."
He suggested the idea to principal Dennis McGeehan, who lent his support. Teacher Bonnie Kolling took up the cause with Devon, and the school is fielding a team in this weekend's relay.
Not surprisingly, Devon aspires to a career as a pediatric oncologist. "I want to give back to the people who gave to me," he said.
At her tender age, Jazlyn isn't yet thinking of a career. She's nimble with the Wii and loves to watch the moving images. And then there are her Barbies. She says she has "a million."
But play wasn't always a priority. Her pediatrician diagnosed her at 2 weeks old with neuroblastoma near her liver. She spent five months in St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
"It was bad. Her belly hurt," said her mother, Jasmine Rivera.
Jazlyn started chemotherapy, and "she did well with it," said Rivera.
But Jasmine Rivera took it hard.
"I was just a mess,'' she said. "On Christmas Day they took her to the ICU and told me to prepare for her funeral. I was a wreck. I didn't know where to start, even what to say."
But Jazyln proved the doctors wrong.
She shook her head when asked this week if she remembers being sick. But she pointed to her arm where she remembers the IV insertion when she suffered her first seizure. She continues to take oral medicine.
"She'll take it like nothing," said Rivera, adding that Jazlyn has seemed normal since about age 1.
Life now is exciting, said Rivera. "I like telling people … she's a normal child."
Jazlyn will show off that normalcy as she leads the Kids Walk in the Relay for Life.
Grandparents Dolores and Joseph Rivera, Jana Blankenship and Walter Brown II, aunt Jaclyn Rivera will join Jazlyn and Jasmine in the relay. Cousins Corey and Michael Holloway are coming from Alabama to take part and celebrate the youngster's survival.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.