Family turns to crowdfunding, prayer after rare cancer diagnosis

Demetrick Mays, Jr., 18, center, father Demetrick Sr., 40, and stepmother, Kiramata Warren, 35, surround themselves with prayers and community.
Demetrick Mays, Jr., 18, center, father Demetrick Sr., 40, and stepmother, Kiramata Warren, 35, surround themselves with prayers and community.
Published July 1, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — In between Craigslist listings for lawn care and children's summer camp, a plea for help catches the eye.

Support for dogs needed, it reads. My son only has two to three months to live.

"All my support is going towards my son, so if anyone wants to help out with the dogs I could use it," 40-year-old Demetrick Mays wrote, hoping someone might help feed or walk his two rescue dogs, both Staffordshire bull terriers.

"I don't want to get rid of them," he said.

Mays is the father of 18-year-old Demetrick Jr., who goes by the name of Dee. His posting about the pets is one struggle the family has faced in the five weeks since the animated teen was diagnosed with renal medullary carcinoma, a rare and aggressive kidney cancer.

Before the diagnosis, Dee studied for his GED exam when he wasn't working as a Hooters cook or hanging out with friends. His family had just moved into a bigger house and adopted a dog to celebrate.

Today, his life is overwhelmed by hospital appointments and chemotherapy.

The teen's family has asked for help on Craigslist and GoFundMe ( A Facebook group for "Team Dee" has more than 1,500 members. More than money, Mays said, the family wants people to keep Dee in their thoughts and prayers.

Both Mays and his wife, Kiramata Warren, are working to pay mounting medical bills. After the diagnosis, Mays said, their entire world stopped.

Dr. Nizar Tannir, deputy chairman of the genitourinary medical oncology department at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, specializes in rare kidney cancers.

He said renal medullary carcinoma is often found in African-American men who have sickle cell trait. By the time the "devastating" cancer is discovered, it's often advanced.

"If you look at five-year survival," he said, "it's not good."

Dee sat in the Outpatient Care Center at All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine recently, his sneaker-clad feet perched on the bed. He was at the hospital for blood work, accompanied by his stepmother, father and a hospice care worker.

It began five months ago, when Dee had chest pain. He went to a doctor who diagnosed him with costochondritis, a common, easily treated chest condition. He was told to take ibuprofen. The pain got worse.

In May, a doctor at All Children's ordered a CT scan. The result: a large tumor on Dee's kidney that required immediate surgery. A biopsy led to a stage 4 cancer diagnosis.

After that, Dee said, he "just zoned out."

A steady flow of medical professionals came into the third-floor hospital room that recent day, all speaking gently and asking questions. Dee played solitaire on his cellphone in between consultations.

Mays clapped and fist-bumped his son upon hearing that the most recent blood work didn't show anything alarming.

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"Amen," he said. "God is good."

Mays said he misses spoiling his pets, but all spare time and money goes to Dee's treatment in hopes of beating the cancer Mays calls a monster.

"All my resources go to him," he said. "Him being so strong keeps me strong."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Ayana Stewart at or (727) 893-8913.