Over the holidays, I finally got to meet a young man I'd been writing about for a year -- Art Canning. Art had come to my attention via a news release. It promoted a benefit for a Chaney High School grad diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. In New York City since college graduation, he was coming home to Youngstown.
Hodgkin's is a cancer typically beaten with radiation and chemotherapy, but Art's seemed to hang on through conventional treatment, though his hair did not. I had seen pictures of the tall, frequently too slim, and sometimes bald, young man, characterized, if not by consistent weight or hairstyle, by a happy smile.
Offering hope: A stem cell transplant offered hope. As Sept. 11 brought tragedy to all of New York (and America), Art continued to live out his own drama.
After watching the World Trade Center towers' dust descend onto him and his apartment rooftop, Art, in typical style, reflected that HIS problems were no more than a "B drama."
Art had the transplant and waited (he'd been waiting for something since I'd first met him) for the results.
Nonetheless, Art's words were overwhelmingly positive. Over the phone (from his job, apartment, or Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) and via his Web site www.artcanning.com, he spoke of the patience he was learning and the power of prayer.
Awkward meeting: When I met him at Panera Bread in Boardman, it was awkward. I had come to think of Art as a friend. But when I saw him, I saw him more as a son (someone's son, someone's dear and cherished boy).
He had recovered somewhat from his treatments, but was bracing himself for further medical care. A pain in his leg hinted the stem cell transplant had not been a success. One hope offered solace -- a bone marrow transplant, with marrow from his brother Billy in the early new year.
We parted with an awkward hug and wished each other well.
On occasion, I have visited his Web site to see the progress toward making our Art well. He returned to Sloan-Kettering to pursue treatment. He left with plans to get PET and CT scans (radiological procedures that produce computer images) and watch the ball fall on Times Square. He managed the first two, but opted for a rooftop get-together with friends instead of the third.
More preparation followed. "The highlight was Dr. Perales' 'No-Hassle Bone Marrow Biopsy,'" Art wrote on his site, Jan. 3. "A bone marrow biopsy is where the doctor sticks a needle (with a circumference of like two inches; at least it feels like it) through your muscle into the back of your hip bone. Nothing rivals feeling a needle going into your bone, especially without sedatives or the numbing agent at full strength. Hearing and feeling your bone crack, it is something EVERYONE needs to experience."
Even worse: But if Art thought that was some sort of "Nazi torture," it was nothing compared to what his insurance company had in mind. Request for bone marrow transplant: denied. Additional requests for transplant: denied.
"Cigna has deemed the procedure too experimental," Art wrote a few days ago. "The numbers are too low. Of six procedures done at Sloan-Kettering, 50 percent rank as successes. It is a small number though, statistically speaking. I imagine Cigna wants case numbers in triple digits." Art may not have time for triple digits.
Not a negative word has he said about his insurer though, even as he watches his hopes pushed further away. His faith stands steady at his side. "If I am going down, I'm going down fighting," he writes. But his strategy is to wow his insurer with his amiability.
And so, still he waits ... a son, all our sons, our native son.
I asked Art if there was anything we could do. Pray. Write politicians. Write someone! Send him ideas.