A courageous approach to cancer battle
At first glance, Carter Douglas is a 20-year-old Olivet Nazarene University nursing student who loves coffee and watching the Chicago Blackhawks.
Other than a scar that stretches from his chin to the back of the left side of his head, you would not think he has cancer. His long, dark hair covers a baseball-sized bald spot from a past surgery.
And his stoic, faith-driven outlook on life has been refined by a couple years of gambling against mortality in the form of Stage 4 metastatic melanoma, a cancer that only has a 10 percent survivability rate beyond one year.
“I do not know how to adequately plan for my future because it is all in question,” Carter said during a recent stop at Stefari Cafe in Kankakee. “I can only live for today. If I am here today, I could be here tomorrow.
“I live day-by-day. That’s how it has been ever since I was diagnosed. I may get sick and not be here in a few years. At the same time, I may have kids and be a grandparent. Every day is a gift.”
Carter was 17 years old when he started experiencing symptoms of his cancer. After a summer of working on a family friend’s farm, he felt what he thought was a pimple forming on the left side of his head.
His hairdresser thought it was an ingrown hair. A dermatologist tried treating it as a wart four times. But the pimple-like tumor burst open and started to grow outward.
Just days after his 18th birthday, Carter received the grave diagnosis of having Stage 4 cancer. Just four weeks before that, his mother, Amy, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. He later found out that his has a genetic mutation that feeds his cancer.
But that did not stop Carter from trying to lead a normal life. He still attended the Kankakee Trinity Academy for his senior year of high school, all while undergoing experimental procedures at Chicagoland and New York hospitals to try to reduce his tumors.
That included surgeries to remove 49 lymph nodes stretching from his head down to his left shoulder.
“It was hard,” Carter said. “I was in denial. I didn’t fully recognize it. I just wanted to go to school and be like everyone else. I wanted to play sports. I wanted to get a job. The cancer put me on a journey I did not expect to go on.”
Despite his illness, Carter chose to move out of his family’s St. Anne home and live on campus at Olivet for his freshman year. He wanted to stay with his friend, James Cho, a foreign exchange student from South Korea who later had to return home to serve mandatory military service.
So, he went to class, keeping his story a secret among select friends. On his one day off each week, he would go up north to undergo experimental procedures to combat his cancer. The procedures cost about $375,000 per trial before insurance.
However, none of them worked, and his tumor grew to the size of a grapefruit.
“In a trial, you keep going until you find something that works,” Carter said. “We hoped something would eventually work, but it never did.”
To take a break from the procedures, Carter and his family moved down to Clearwater, Fla., last summer, where his brother, Jared, had an internship at an aquarium.
By a friend’s recommendation, the family went to a doctor in Clearwater who had studied various cancers in Europe. The doctor ran various tests on Carter and found a solution. Carter’s cancer responded to a “heat-shock” treatment, as well as ozone and vitamin C infusions.
He underwent those non-FDA approved treatments four days per week. Each session lasted about six hours. By the time he left Florida, Carter’s tumor had shrunk down to the size of a golf ball.
“We went down to Florida to get away from everything,” Amy said. “And we left knowing there is something we can do to save my son’s life. He looked healthy again. He looked like a young, healthy kid again.”
And it will take them back there on Jan. 4. After completing the first semester of his sophomore year at ONU, Carter decided to put school on hold so he can get fully healthy.
“It’s like a full-time job to get healthy,” Carter said. “I’m fighting for my life every day. That’s why I had to put a pause on school. I wanted to juggle my treatments and still go to school, but it takes too much mentally and physically to do both. It was a hard decision, but school will always be there waiting for me. I have to make it to tomorrow.”
To afford the treatments, Carter’s family has been raising money through a GoFundMe account. They have raised about $58,000 of their $200,000 goal since the beginning of December. That would help cover treatments and living arrangements.
“We are fighting for my son’s life,” Amy said. “We know there is something we can do to shrink his tumor, and we are going to do what we can. Our faith has kept us strong, and our hearts are overflowing with gratitude.”