Living through ‘a bad dream’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Even if you’ve never met Zack Till, it’s hard not to like this kid with the laughing eyes.

Zack is 5 years old &045; make that 5 and a half. He’s bright. He has a 1,000-watt smile. He has a droll sense of humor.

And he has cancer.

Zack was born with Wilm’s tumor on his right kidney. &uot;It’s very unusual for it to be present at birth,&uot; says his mom, Tammy Till. &uot;The doctor felt it during his well-baby checkup. His whole right kidney was encased in a tumor.&uot;

When Zack was 3 days old doctors removed the tumor, along with his right kidney. They also found a spot on his left kidney, which meant that the tumor was bilateral –

something that is also very unusual with Wilm’s.

Doctors continued to monitor Zack closely. When he was 2 1/2 a routine X-ray revealed that a tumor had developed on his remaining kidney. Zack underwent six months of excruciating chemotherapy. His cancer went into remission.

More than two years went by. His parents allowed themselves to believe the worst was behind them. Then, one week before Zack was to begin kindergarten in August, another routine X-ray revealed the cancer was back.

Zack has begun another round of chemo, which is scheduled to last six to nine months. This time the drugs are much stronger. Every three weeks he goes in to the hospital to receive five days of intensive treatment. The drugs are administered through an IV for four hours at a stretch.

His body needs the three-week interval to rebuild itself.

The drugs are so strong that Zack’s hair fell out with the first round of treatment. He took it in stride. Looking at the strands of blond hair on his pillow, he told his parents, &uot;I never did like to wash my hair all that much, anyway.&uot;

Zack is often nauseous and finds it difficult to keep food down. After a recent trip through the drive-through at McDonald’s, his breakfast came back up almost as fast as it went down. As he and his mother sat staring at the midmorning disaster now coating the front seat of the family car, Zack merely shrugged and said, &uot;Well, it was a good egg McMuffin anyway.&uot;

If Tammy Till ever feels like running out into the street and screaming about the unfairness of it all, she keeps those feelings to herself.

Tammy admits they probably spoil Zack.

Because he so seldom feels like eating they let him eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants. If that means pizza for breakfast, so be it.

His dad, Dan Till, went to a local trophy store not long ago and ordered the biggest trophy they had. He had it inscribed &uot;Iron Man,&uot; and presented it to his son. Zack thought that was pretty neat. The trophy is nearly as big he is.

Through it all, Dan and Tammy have done their best to maintain their composure.

The Tills are not alone. Friends, family and complete strangers have stepped forward to offer their help.

To help offset the mounting medical bills and associated costs, friends have opened an account at SouthTrust Bank.

It’s called the Zack Till Medical Fund. They’ll also man a booth at the Central Alabama Fair that runs this week for those who would like to help out.

For a $5 donation, you get a shot at a drawing for cash prizes to be held Oct. 18. Zack himself is going to draw the winning ticket.

Even if he has to do it from his hospital bed.