Henley High senior Cameron Caldwell has run some tough races in his cross country and track career, but the 17-year-old Hornet Harrier is up against his toughest race yet as he undergoes chemotherapy for bone cancer.
A 5K race benefiting Caldwell and medical treatment for osteosarcoma and recovery from a knee replacement kicks off Saturday morning at 10 a.m. The event is being organized by Caldwell’s friend and teammate Kira Morrow, a fellow Henley senior taking on the run preparation and management as her senior project.
During an open period on Wednesday, Morrow FaceTimed with Caldwell from the staff break room, connecting with him in his hospital room in Medford where he is undergoing treatment.
Caldwell expressed gratitude to the community and his teammates, especially Morrow for organizing the run.
“It really meant a lot, because we’ve ran together since eighth grade,” Caldwell said, adding that he hopes to attend race day.
‘Every single race, it was hurting’
Caldwell first noticed pain in his leg at the beginning of the cross country season in 2018. The pain prompted missed practices in an effort to rest it, which yielded little results, though he still ran numerous races.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t stretch it out or warm it up and it just kept hurting,” Caldwell said.
“Every single race, it was hurting,” he added.
“I couldn’t even keep up with my freshman year times.”
Even trying different methods of training wasn’t helping, either.
“I wasn’t doing anything on it, and it just kept getting worse,” Caldwell said.
And that’s saying something for an athlete who at his peak running mileage logged 8 miles a day, or 40 miles a week, not counting weekend runs.
“I would walk with a limp,” he said, “It would hurt with every step.”
A visit to a doctor in mid-November, just weeks following the state cross country championships (he did not compete at state this year) prompted an X-ray of his leg. An MRI and a CT scan followed to ensure other bones weren’t affected.
Caldwell and his family then traveled to Portland for a biopsy in late November at Oregon Health & Science University.
“That was just confirming it was osteosarcoma,” he said.
He started chemotherapy on Dec. 6 at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, taking a break during Christmas, and then back shortly after the holiday. It wasn’t exactly a teenager’s desired plans for Christmas break.
“I don’t really remember it,” he said.
Chemo continues in Medford and he has four more cycles of the treatment planned through July.
Doctors found the cancer in the bottom part of Caldwell’s femur, and eventually removed a piece from both the femur and the tibia.
“It basically just eats out the bone marrow and makes it kind of hollow inside,” Caldwell said.
On Valentines Day, doctors removed the top portion of his lower femur and the top portion of his tibia from his lower leg.
“And then they replaced those with metal,” Caldwell said.
As part of the overall procedure, he underwent knee replacement, too.
“I have to wait six weeks to put any pressure on my left foot,” Caldwell added. “I’ll be in a year of physical therapy to learn how to walk again.”
Friends through thick ‘n’ thin
Morrow and Caldwell attended the same elementary school and started running together as seventh-graders, developing a bond well known to runners.
“You see each other at your worse moments,” Morrow said. “He would yell at me when I was racing. He would say, ‘You’re not tired,’” she added.
“You’re trying to encourage each other, which I feel like has helped.”
In a way, organizing the run for her friend and teammate is returning the encouragement when he needs it most.
“I wanted to do something instead of just sitting back, but be a leader and show my support,” she said.
It’s easy to see these two are teammates, too.
“Cam, is that facial hair?” Morrow asks him over FaceTime.
He laughs and confirms it’s growing back after a hiatus caused by chemo.
Resilience and resolve
While Caldwell has lost his hair, he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
Caldwell’s Track coach Brad Smith praised him for his resilience shown since his diagnosis and emphasized Caldwell’s care for the team. He has watched Caldwell’s attitude motivate all the track athletes as they prepare for what would have been Caldwell’s senior season. The team has dedicated the upcoming season to him.
“It was just so amazing to hear what he was saying for somebody that’d just been diagnosed with cancer,” Smith said.
Smith said Caldwell visits as often as he can and that no one would know he’s been through so many trials by looking at him. The coach is hoping one of his top athletes can come to practices as he is able.
“I feel sad for Cam that he wasn’t able to come his senior year and compete,” Smith said.
But Smith knows Caldwell’s attitude will carry him forward.
“He’s still very much concerned about everybody else’s success and how everybody else is doing,” Smith added.
“It just makes me really proud that he represents kind of what we teach and coach so well in our program.”
Just like anyone, there are good and bad days, especially when undergoing chemo.
“Those are the good days when I can go hang out with somebody,” Caldwell said.
He’s still taking anatomy and government courses as he can, when not undergoing treatments — and upper-level calculus from home.
Caldwell plans to attend Oregon State University to pursue studies in physical therapy.
“The bad days are when I’m stuck in the hospital,” Caldwell said.
He noted, though, that during these times he can get in quality time with his mom (Caldwell is the son of Calvin Caldwell and Debbie McCollam).
With cross country and track, Caldwell is used to a mentality of persevering through a 3.1 mile race, on terrain often anything but flat.
And it’s with this mentality he faces his diagnosis head-on.
“Chemo – you know it’s going to suck, you have to push through it,” he added.
Caldwell encouraged those going through chemo to keep a positive attitude and take the support from those who want to provide it. He would know, too.
“All of Klamath Falls … has just been awesome,” he added, “jumping in with all these fundraisers for me. Everywhere I go, somebody’s praying for me, so, it’s pretty cool.”
Caldwell, a previous district champion in the 800 meters in track, will be rooting on his team this season as he continues chemo.
His running slogan known by his teammates is “keep running,” and that’s what he intends to do when it comes to facing off with osteosarcoma.
Saturday’s Camrun – which has Caldwell’s namesake – is $25 per person and includes a T-shirt. Race time is 10 a.m. but participants must arrive at 9:15 a.m. to check-in.
Register for the run online at www.camrun2019.wixsite.com.