Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Andy Caress always has had an unquenchable thirst and love for everything that surrounds life.
Most friends you talk to can't remember Caress not smiling.
So even as the Steamboat Springs tennis pro and former Coastal Carolina tennis star treks through the toughest part of his 23 years on this Earth, he's still smiling.
Caress was diagnosed with an extreme case of skin cancer in early November. Always active, always funny and always looking for something to do, Caress wasn't sure how to take it.
There were times he could have asked, "Why me? Why, at 23 years old, would someone like me get a cancer that affects more than 50,000 people a year?"
"But the crazy part is it really hasn't changed him," said fellow tennis pro Marie Matrka, who played and lived with Caress at Coastal Carolina. "His humor is actually the same. He's totally himself. It's the same old Andy. He's happy and funny and always making jokes."
But it has been quite the battle for Caress, a battle most people would look at as one setback after another.
Caress originally was diagnosed with melanoma in early November. He had surgeries in November and December to remove more than 60 lymph nodes from his neck, throat and shoulder area. Caress started feeling good, started talking about what was next on his list of things to do. There was a trip to Costa Rica planned. A raft trip to the Grand Canyon. He wanted to win the Colorado State Open Tennis tournament. He also was planning to do a triathlon in Boulder and the Steamboat Marathon.
He was in the airport on his way back to Steamboat - thinking of all these things, probably with a smile on his face - when he got the call from his doctors. They wanted to do more tests.
Doctors discovered a tumor on the back of his neck and enlarged lymph nodes on the side of his neck.
And that's the thing about melanoma or cancer. It's not biased. It doesn't see black or white, brown or yellow, young or old. But Caress - like he's done most of his life - served up a new outlook. He's still going to try to do all those things while beating cancer.
It's not a setback or a roadblock to Caress; it's just another thing he has to do to enjoy life.
So in late February, he started doing hyper-aggressive chemotherapy in Houston. The regimen is one week in the hospital and two weeks of recovery. When he's in the hospital, he spends all day in the intensive care unit doing treatment. Matrka said while he's there, he's still been known to crack jokes and inspire others.
On his weeks off, he visits the places he loves. He's been to Denver, Steamboat and his hometown of Cincinnati.
Each time, it's hard for people to tell he's even been diagnosed.
"I think most people don't know when he's here. He's almost himself," Matrka said. "He's active. He's been skiing a couple days. He always wants to hike and work out."
It's not hard to see Caress has been able to make friends wherever he's been. So it's not surprising to see his friends are returning the favor and putting on a benefit for him April 18 and 19 at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs. It's a Balls for Caress Dodgeball tournament complete with prizes and, of course, dodgeball, something Caress brought to the Tennis Center last year.
For more information, to donate or to sign up for the tournament, contact Anthony Miriani at 248-770-4351 or e-mail email@example.com.
That way, one of the good guys can maintain that smile and unquestioned love of life.
- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org