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Saturday's Phil Phest honors Phillip Bryant and raises money for skin cancer research

OLDSMAR — His college football career over because of a neck injury, Philip Bryant spent his early 20s outside doing odd jobs at construction sites, his baseball cap on backward.

As coolness dictates, he wouldn't turn his cap around. But he was concerned about the sun because of some mean-looking black moles dotting his fair skin like tiny, undetonated bombs.

One day in 2005, he took his hat off and said, "Mom, can you look at this? It's starting to bother me.''

His mother, Veronica Bryant, an oncology nurse, examined the mole on her son's right temple.

"It was irregular and bleeding,'' she said.

No one had to tell her it was melanoma. She had seen it so many times before.

Philip Bryant died a year later. He was 23.

He will be remembered Saturday during Phil Phest 2009, a benefit put on by the Philip A. Bryant Melanoma Foundation to raise money for melanoma research and scholarships.

One of the organization's goals is to warn people about sun exposure.

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

• • •

Bryant grew up in the sun, surfing at the beach and playing football at Clearwater High School, wearing No. 40 under coach Tom Bostic.

His mother always worried he might get skin cancer because he was fair skinned, blond and blue eyed — all risk factors. But most of all there were those moles, big, round, dark and ugly.

She checked them regularly.

Moles aside, Veronica Bryant said her son was gregarious and popular.

One of Bryant's best friends was Matthew Anderson. The two met in sixth-grade at Oak Grove Middle School and loved to spend hours fishing for snook, trout and redfish from Bryant's john boat. In 2002, Anderson took Bryant to his family's farm in the Florida Panhandle, where they went hunting and Bryant killed two deer.

The stand from where Bryant killed the animals was falling apart and was soon torn down. A month and a half before he died, Bryant helped build a new one.

"After he passed, we called the stand Phil's Stand,'' Anderson said.

Veronica Bryant said her son, who "had the biggest heart,'' was in love with his high school sweetheart, Paige Skaaland, and a friend to all.

One day, he brought home two fellow Clearwater High students, Chris and Trey Garrison, because he was concerned about their home situation.

The Garrison brothers became the Bryants' foster children and are among Bryant's survivors who also include his father Stan, brother Christopher, sister Rebecca as well as his mom.

The captain of his high school team, he earned a partial scholarship to North Iowa Area Community College. He was enrolled there for a semester before suffering the high neck fracture that ended his career. After he returned home, he began taking classes at St. Petersburg College.

• • •

On the day he was diagnosed with melanoma, Veronica Bryant went home to comfort him.

"I said 'Phil, I don't know,' '' she said. "He was crying. We both were.''

After tests showed the disease had spread to Bryant's lymph nodes, he underwent radical surgery at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Surgeons removed tissue from the top of his forehead to the base of his neck.

A month later, he was started on a regimen of interferon under Dr. Andrew Hano, who works with Veronica Bryant.

He received the drug Monday through Friday by IV for four weeks, then by injection three times a week.

It caused fevers, chills, muscle aches and depression. What it didn't do was cure the cancer.

And that was it. Doctors had done all they could do and told him the prognosis wasn't good.

So in the summer of 2006, he packed his medicine and took a road trip with his best friend, Mike Loy.

Bryant and Loy had just planned to ride their Honda motorcycles to Tennessee to see his grandparents. But after the visit, they kept going north all the way to Canada.

At night, Loy would hear his buddy rolling around in agony from the interferon's side effects.

On one leg of the journey, the two friends rode for hours without talking. That night when they stopped, he told Loy, "I think I've got things right with God,'' Veronica Bryant said.

He came back to Clearwater with a big, peculiar-looking tattoo that "started out at his shoulder and went down his arm,'' his mother said.

She still doesn't quite know how to describe it.

"He said what it means is you never know where life is taking you,'' Veronica Bryant said.

He died on Sept. 7, 2006.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Phil Phest 2009

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: R.E Olds Park, 107 Shore Drive W, Oldsmar.

There will be live music, free skin cancer screenings and kids' activities. No coolers. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Proceeds go to skin cancer research and scholarships.

For information: Call (727) 536-5039 or visit www.pab40

foundation.org.

Saturday's Phil Phest honors Phillip Bryant and raises money for skin cancer research 04/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 16, 2009 8:37pm]
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