By EMMALEE C. TORISK
With their 23-year-old son enmeshed in a seven-month-long (and counting) battle against cancer, the Macklen family of Struthers had enough to worry about. Finances didn’t need to be another concern.
With that in mind, Diane and Mike Johnson, longtime friends of the family, and Debbie and Jim Lendi, Dean Macklen’s aunt and uncle, have organized a “Dimes for Dean” golf outing for May 3 at Bedford Trails Golf Course in Coitsville.
“We wanted to make sure that finances aren’t getting in the way of him getting the right care and being able to see the best specialists that he can,” said Diane Johnson, adding that travel expenses have also mounted, especially with the family’s recent trip to Indianapolis to consult with Dr. Lawrence Einhorn.
Einhorn is widely known for pioneering the life-saving medical treatment for testicular cancer, and for leading the medical team that treated athlete Lance Armstrong.
Since mid-September, Dean, a 2009 graduate of Struthers High School, has been fighting the exceptionally rare combination of three cancers: mast cell leukemia, histiocytic sarcoma and teratoma with malignant transformation.
The family decided to visit Einhorn at Indiana University only after Dean’s Cleveland Clinic medical team told him they couldn’t do any more for him.
Unfortunately, Einhorn’s assessment of the situation wasn’t as positive as the family had hoped, said Rebecca Macklen, Dean’s mother.
Because what Dean is battling is a refractory disease, Einhorn felt as though the chances of curing him were virtually nonexistent, Rebecca recalled. Still, seeing Einhorn in person was “a door that we needed to close, an avenue that we had to cross off our list.”
“The options are narrowing down,” Rebecca said. “It’s not a good prognosis. We know this, but we’re not giving up. ... I think we still need to fight, to search for just that one doctor that’s going to have the treatment he needs.”
She explained that Dean’s treatment will need to be radical and “out of the box,” but that a number of difficult decisions exist at the moment. Treating one problem could cause another, and almost every action carries with it a risk.
Right now, one treatment option consists of manipulating the body’s T-cells to stimulate the immune system to fight the cancers. The family is also exploring the possibility of genetic counseling to identify a mutation that could be the culprit behind Dean’s cancers.
But regardless of how the Macklens elect to move forward, Rebecca said, “time is truly of the essence,” even though something is keeping his cancers at bay. Mast cell leukemia carries with it a six-month survival span, and seven months for the histiocytic sarcoma.
“I think it’s all these prayers; there’s thousands and thousands of prayers going on,” Rebecca said. “This whole experience has restored my faith in human nature. ... We really appreciate everyone.”
Diane Johnson noted that aside from raising funds for the family, another reason for organizing the golf outing — which also will include a buffet lunch, an auction and a 50/50 raffle — was to give the Macklens an opportunity to enjoy themselves, and to “take a break from doctors and medical care.”
Space is limited in the four-person scramble, which is $65 per person and will begin at 9 a.m. May 3. Donations of baskets, gift cards and more also are being accepted for the auction, and hole sponsorship is available for $50 per hole. For more information, contact Mike Johnson at 330-727-3120, or email Diane Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, the Macklens will keep going.
“Hope is utterly important,” Rebecca said. “No matter how dire things seem, if you don’t keep some hope alive, you have nothing.”
To stay up to date with Dean’s progress, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/deanmacklen.