Life can turn on a dime and no one knows that better than 17-year-old Dylan Fink and his family. Prior to Sept. 2020, Dylan was a healthy teenager playing baseball, lacrosse and conditioning in a CrossFit gym. When he noticed a swollen lymph node on his neck in June of that year, no one, including his pediatrician, was terribly concerned.
“When the lymph node began to increase in size and Dylan started experiencing extreme thirst, the decision was made to biopsy it,” said Ed Fink, Dylan’s dad.
The surgeon immediately recognized that Dylan had cancer.
“They weren’t sure if it was Hodgkins or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” said Krista Fink, Dylan’s mom. “There was a lot of fear of the unknown and it delayed Dylan being able to start treatment until he was officially diagnosed.”
It turns out the kind of cancer Dylan had was so rare it had to be sent to the National Institutes of Health to be identified. When Dylan was finally diagnosed, it was determined he had stage 4 non-Hodgkins T-Cell/Histiocyte-Rich Large B-Cell Lymphoma, a very rare and very aggressive cancer.
Over the next 8 months, Dylan received 6 grueling rounds of chemotherapy, spent a total of 110 days admitted to the hospital and had 13 platelet transfusions, 9 blood transfusions, 15 lumbar punctures and 4 bone marrow biopsies.
“The cancer had spread throughout most of his body,” said Krista, who quit her job as a nurse to stay with Dylan throughout his treatment.
With visitors limited due to COVID restrictions, Dylan couldn’t see his younger brother, Grady, or other family and friends. He and his parents passed the time by binge watching all 44 seasons of the reality TV show Survivor.
“Dylan and I had started watching it pre-pandemic,” said Ed.
Through one of his former employees’ connections, Ed was able to connect Dylan with Ethan Zohn, Survivor season 3 winner and a blood cancer survivor himself.
“Ethan did a video call with Dylan and sent him a care package with a Survivor buff,” said Ed. “He also had other contestants create videos with inspirational messages.”
One of the things the Finks were most grateful for during Dylan’s illness was the amount of support they received from family, friends, and even strangers.
“During Dylan’s hospitalizations, I saw that not every kid or family had that kind of support,” said Krista. “Some kids come from single parent families so the parent can’t sit by the bedside 24/7 because they either must work or take care of their other children.”
“As parents, we felt very helpless,” said Ed. “We want to fix everything for our children, but this wasn’t something we could fix.”
Wanting to do something actionable for other families facing childhood cancer, Ed and Krista created the Fearless Fighters Foundation offering care and comfort items, gas and food gift cards and funds to help those in need of assistance with their mortgage, car payments and utility bills.
“The oncology department’s child life specialists and social workers help direct families who qualify for our fund,” Ed said.
The Finks host blood drives and raise funds by hosting events such as an annual golf outing, 5K run, soccer tournament, bourbon and wine tastings and a comedy night, as well as sell Fearless Fighter apparel.
“Pediatric cancer is severely underfunded,” said Krista. “It’s up to foundations like ours to raise awareness.”
After 18 months of chemotherapy, Dylan rang the bell to signify the end of his treatment in May 2021. Dylan is now a part of the hospital’s Childhood Cancer Survivorship Program where he will be followed until he is 25 years old to watch for the aftereffects of treatment.
A senior at Stow-Munroe Falls High School, Dylan recently committed to Malone University on an academic and athletic scholarship where he will play lacrosse. Dylan said it’s the little things in life he appreciates now more than ever.
“When I was going through treatment I would try and set a daily goal for myself or try to focus on one good thing that happened that day,” he said. “It may have been as simple as walking to the bathroom or being grateful I wasn’t nauseous that day.
“Now I just try to enjoy the simple things like hanging out with friends and family, being able to work out again and attend school.”
To learn more about how you can support the Fearless Fighter Cancer Fund at Akron Children’s, contact Paul Hasson, associate corporate alliance officer in the Akron Children’s Foundation, at 330-849-0823 or firstname.lastname@example.org.