Community rallies for kids with cancer

Published: Monday, April 30 2012 9:56 p.m. MDT

Alta's #13 Lexe Selman ,right, celebrates a goal as Alta and Brighton play Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011 at Alta. Alta won 5-0.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Memo to Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns all-star

Mr. Nash;

Maybe you noticed the many requests that have come to you lately on behalf of a Utah girl named Lexe Selman. A group of teenagers flagged you down for an autograph as you came off the court in Utah last week following a shootaround, imploring you to visit Lexe. Members of the Jazz organization convinced you to sign a media guide for Lexe. And, fair warning, coaches at the University of Arizona have told Lexe they are going to arrange a visit between you and Lexe.

Lexe is a first-team all-state soccer player from Alta High who loves Steve Nash (she wears his jersey number on her soccer uniform). In February, she realized her childhood dream by signing a soccer scholarship with the University of Arizona. She was on top of the world. As her father Mark says, "She was rollin' sixes." Then two weeks ago she developed a persistent cough and noticed large black bruises on her legs that were nothing like the bruises she normally gets on the soccer pitch.

Laurie Selman took her daughter to the doctor. He thought she was fine, but because the University of Arizona required some medical tests before she reported for training camp in July, it was decided she might as well get a full blood workup. The next morning, a doctor called Laurie telling her to get her daughter to Primary Children's Hospital immediately. Then the world stopped when she heard the next word:

Leukemia.

Lexe was hospitalized that afternoon. Through her fourth-floor window, she watched her club soccer teammates play a game a quarter-mile away on the University of Utah field. She felt fine; why couldn't she play, she wondered? Further tests confirmed that she had a fast-moving form of leukemia and there was no time to waste. She began chemotherapy the next morning. In a matter of 24 hours she had been yanked out of her active, teenage world into the sterile, aquarium-like world of hospitals.

She is a virtual prisoner. On Day 2 of her new hospital life, she worked out on a treadmill in the physical therapy department, but she has been unable to leave her room since then because chemotherapy has destroyed all her white blood cells, leaving her unprotected against infection.

She battles nausea and dizziness while doctors drop the A-bomb on her insides to kill the cancer. One of the chemo pills is so powerful that it is dubbed "the red devil." For the next six months this will be her life: a 10-day cycle of chemo, followed by another three weeks in the hospital to rebuild her body's immune system, then, after a few days out of the hospital, she will begin another 10-day cycle of chemo. She will do this four times.

She smiles bravely and bites her lower lip when the tears come. "She's tough, so tough," says Mark. There are respites from the mental and physical anguish. Last week she watched her favorite athlete in the world, Steve Nash, play against the Utah Jazz on TV. There she was, sitting on her bed, wearing her autographed No. 13 Steve Nash jersey and holding a barf bucket in her lap as she watched Nash dart around the court.

But what has sustained her and her family is the support. Lisa Oyen, the Arizona soccer coach, flew from Arizona to visit her. She told Lexe that she would hold her scholarship until she was ready to play — or even if she never played again. When Oyen found out Nash was her idol, she vowed to get him to visit her.

A high school classmate wrote a song and sang it to her in her hospital room. About one-third of Alta's students wore orange to school one day — the designated color for leukemia awareness — and the athletic teams have adorned themselves with orange. A blog that was created by the family — lexekicksleukemia.blogspot.com — has had 17,000 hits from 10 countries. Soccer coaches have called. Teammates have visited. Teachers have rallied around her. "Let's put it this way," said one teacher. "She WILL graduate." Real Salt Lake is cooking up something to lend support, as well.

"All the support makes me feel so happy and loved," says Lexe. Then a moment later, she grows pensive. "It also feels unfair. There are so many others up here who have the same disease and don't get the same attention."

Ironically, one floor below her is another Alta student. Porter Thorkelson, a freshman, was admitted to the hospital three weeks ago. He had a swollen ankle that didn't look like normal swelling to his father. The X-rays revealed bone cancer in his lower right leg. After visiting Lexe, I stopped by Porter's room and he looked and felt miserable after enduring the latest round of chemo. The family has pretty much accepted the fact that he will have the leg amputated from the mid-calf rather than take a chance on the disease reoccurring. His parents, Jared and Mary, believe they will see their son ride his snowboard again with the new leg.

The Thorkelsons also have been amazed at the community support. The athletic teams wore the color blue in his honor (the school colors are black and silver). Some athletes have worn blue tape on one arm and orange on the other, initialed with PT and LS after the two classmates who are battling cancer.

Porter's friends and classmates have shaved their heads for him. The Thorkelson's blog and a Facebook page have been bombarded with well-wishers.

(For me, there is a personal connection to Porter. When my father was hospitalized last fall — and later, after he died — it was Porter who took care of the yard as if it were his own, and when I tried to pay him, he refused it repeatedly.)

Jared sounds much like Lexe when he notes, "It seems unfair to see all the support he gets and see so many others up here and wonder if they get the same support."

Email: drob@desnews.com

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