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May 24, 2012

‘Race for Nate’ will honor 6-year-old battling cancer

ROCKWALL — Six-year-old Nate Oxford could be up close to the starting line for a 5k run that will be held Monday morning in conjunction with The Patriot Half Marathon.

And he could be wearing a runner’s bib that has a prized number selected just for him — No. 1.

Nate will be the star of the race, but he won’t be able to run. The kindergartner had his fourth brain surgery just days ago.

The Patriot Half Marathon organizers, headed by the Rockwall Running Center, have designated Nate as “our honorary patriot” and have named the 5k in his honor — “Race for Nate”.

Participants have been invited to celebrate Memorial Day with “an awesome run and the uplift of an amazing young man.”

The entire Oxford family is planning to be on hand for the “Race for Nate” when it begins at 8 a.m. Monday at Wilkerson-Sanders Memorial Stadium. Along with Nate, the Oxfords are parents Wes and Jackie of Fate and their two other sons, Jake, 11, and Luke, 7.

“He’s very excited,” the mother, a special education teacher at Pullen Elementary School in Rockwall, said of Nate and the race named in his honor. “Because of his competitive spirit, he wants to run it. He thinks he can run a race.”

When Nate was 2, the Oxfords learned that he had cancer in his brain and on his spine. He has had 13 operations, including four brain surgeries. He has undergone chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant. Nate’s older brother, Jake, was the bone marrow donor.

His latest surgery was on May 14, and Wednesday — just 10 days after the operation — he returned to his kindergarten class at Pullen Elementary School. That’s what Nate wanted to do, the mother said.

The father, an insurance agent, provided the latest report in a post on the “Pray for Little Nate” Facebook page.

He reported that Nate has “very small, but very much alive tumor cells that are isolated islands within tissue around it that no one can determine what it is.”

According to the Facebook post, the “other material” could be the result of the bone marrow transplant.

“The only explanation is that the other non-cancerous tissue making up the lesions are actually reactive cells from Jake fighting the cancer within Nate’s brain and containing any spread that is trying to occur,” the father wrote on Facebook.

It hasn’t been proven if that is the case.

If it can be proven, Oxford said, this could be a new way to treat solid tumors — containing it using certain cells from outside donors on solid tumors within the human body.

The mother said the community support they have received over the years — highlighted by the most recent “Race for Nate” — is humbling.

“We’re in the hospital and we see other families who are not getting the support we are,” she said. “We are so grateful for people who want to do stuff.

“We are surrounded by people and their support has been constant. That’s amazing. In this fast-paced world, after three and a half years, they are still supporting us. They are still rallying around us. They are still cheering for Nate.”

The loudest cheers could come Monday morning when Nate is introduced to the expected 500 runners signed up for the 5k.

Barrett Hopper, owner of the Rockwall Running Center and coach of the Rockwall Running Club, said details are being worked out on how to honor Nate just before the 5k race begins.

Hopper did say, however, that each runner will be “Nate’s Mates” for the day. There will be a pirate-themed message of support for Nate. The message: “We’re in the boat with you.”

Hopper said Vanessa Abraham, a running club member, questioned several months ago whether a benefit 5k run could be held for Nate and his family. The race schedule is crowded, Hopper said, so a decision was made to make the Memorial Day 5k, held in conjunction with The Patriot Half Marathon, a benefit for Nate.

The coach said Rhonda Mishler, another running club member, also has helped coordinate the event.

Hopper said registration totals Thursday morning were 850 for the half marathon, 385 for the 5k and 50 for the one-mile run.

Runners can register for the 5k at packet pickup locations — 1-6 p.m. today and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Rockwall Running Center, 811 E. Yellow Jacket Lane, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday at the The Center, located at the corner of Goliad and Washington streets.

Hopper said he believes the “Race for Nate” will reach the maximum 500 runners.


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