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Colton conquers cancer

Colton Smothers, son of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamie Smothers, 7th Operations Support Squadron survival, evasion, resistance and escape instructor, pets an animal at a zoo after being diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma in March 2018. Colton spent several months in the hospital receiving chemo therapy treatment to eradicate his cancer, which made him lose his hair and become fatigued. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jamie Smothers)

Story by Airman 1st Class Kylee Thomas
7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

When a child is born, parents would give anything to keep their baby safe. For most families, the thought of their child being diagnosed with a life threatening sickness would make any parent change their entire outlook on life.
In March of this year, Staff Sgt. Jamie Smothers, 7th Operations Support Squadron survival, evasion, resistance and escape instructor and his wife, Valarie Smothers, were left feeling defeated after receiving the heartbreaking news that their only child had been diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma.
“I was extremely happy when Colton was born,” said Valarie. “You never think something like this would happen to your child, but for us when it did happen, we did our best to make Colton feel comfortable while away from home and happy.”
Burkitt Lymphoma is a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in which cancer starts in immune cells called B-cells. Recognized as the fastest growing human tumor, this type of cancer is associated with impaired immunity and is rapidly fatal if left untreated.
At the time, Jamie was deployed to Honduras when Valarie brought their son, Colton, to the hospital because of a growth they found on his neck and an enlarged stomach.
“I got a video call on my computer saying my son has got something in his stomach and is getting checked out by the doctor,” Jamie said. “The doctor just blew it off at first and said he had some built up gas.
Fortunately, Jamie’s mother was there when they found out and she insisted on getting a second opinion from another doctor. It turned out that he had a tumor in his stomach the size of his liver.
From that point, the doctors got Colton on an ambulance and took him to a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, where they found out he had two more tumors; one behind his liver and another in his neck the size of a golf ball.
“I was not there for my little boy while I was serving my country. I was feeling helpless, like there was nothing I could do to make my son better,” Jamie said. “Thankfully, my leadership was very understanding and supportive of the situation, and they let me get on the next flight home to be with my family.”
After Colton was diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma at just three years old, he started to undergo heavy chemo therapy treatment. He began losing hair and became fatigued as he moved along with each phase of his treatment.
“I felt like in every phase there was something that would go wrong,” said Jamie. “The first time his counts were so low that we had to stay at the hospital for extra days. For four months, he was constantly sick and we weren’t getting very many answers.”
Feeling defeated by the cancer that was taking control of their son’s body, Jamie and Valarie tried finding ways to be there for Colton.
“Throughout the whole experience, there wasn’t really much that Valarie and I could do,” Jamie said. “We could hang out and be there with him, but all we were able to do was make him feel as comfortable as possible.”
Although he went through most of the normal side effects of receiving treatment for his cancer, Colton stayed strong and positive. He never lost his sense of hope and childlike energy.
“Seeing him in pain was horrible, but he was such a champ through the whole process,” said Valarie. “He loved all of the attention he got from his nurses and being able to talk to all the new people.
“He got all kinds of presents and snacks so for him it was more of a fun experience than anything. I believe it was a distraction for him to be able to be a kid and still do kid stuff.”
For Colton, the hospitals he stayed in were more than welcoming and always made sure he was happy by making every day full of new, exciting experiences. The hospital staff would bring in animals, performers and special guests so that the kids were still able to have fun and be happy.
After enduring months of hospital visits and sickness, the Smothers family are back at work, school and happy to be cancer free. Colton was officially cleared with having no sign of cancer in August of this year.
“The thing I admire most about Colton is that he never lost his sense of self; he was always energetic and happy, even when he was going through his chemo,” said Valarie. “He never calms down and he never stops smiling.”

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