Stepping up for support
The fourth annual Steamboat Springs Relay For Life starts at 6 p.m. Friday at Steamboat Springs High School. Participating teams will walk through the night to show their support of the battle against cancer.
Registration for the event is open, and donations can be made to team members or online at www.steamboatrela.... Those who wish to form a team can call Kassandra Collins at 871-4652. For more information, call event co-chair Linda Jackson at 819-1859.
Steamboat Springs Jason Sear already had a hat with antlers and a nose that lit up red.
It was Christmastime, and Sear - then a patient at Yampa Valley Medical Center and a near-constant presence in the hospital's infusion therapy room - was ready to make the rounds.
The infusion room nurses who had worked with Jason through round after round of chemotherapy helped him decorate the hat, hanging ornaments from the ears and accompanying him through the hospital lobby, cafeteria and administration offices, said Jan Fritz, director of cancer services at YVMC.
"We went over to the hospital cafeteria - and of course he was so tall, he was like 6 feet tall - and you could see him coming down the hall and with this blinking hat, like 'Who is this guy?'" Fritz said.
"It was silliness, but it took everyone's mind off of having cancer and being sick. He was just the most personable guy to do this, he was just perfect for doing this, playing jokes, trying to make a comment just to see if he could get a rise out of you," she said.
Throughout his 18-month fight with a rare kind of cancer, Jason Sear would look at his family members like they were crazy if they acted sad, said his wife, Stacey Sear. He kept a strong face for his three children, falling asleep each night during his rigorous treatment schedule to the sound of them playing in the hallway and the comfort of their school pictures on his nightstand, Stacey Sear said.
"His priority was always keeping the kids : as normal as could be during this time. He would not allow for anything to get out of sync. He wouldn't allow for the kids' schedules to change; he wanted their lives to just" stay normal, Stacey Sear said.
Stacey and Jason Sear's children are Nick, 14; Tatum, 13; and Jake, 11. The two boys play lacrosse, and Tatum plays soccer. Nick trained with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club on the freestyle skiing team. The family moved to Steamboat Springs about three years ago from outside of Dallas after years of vacationing here in the winter and summer.
In November 2007, Jason Sear was diagnosed with absolutely no warning signs, Stacey Sear said.
"He had just turned 40 the month before and had always been well, and there was certainly no sign that we would be fighting cancer," she said.
At about 9 or 10 p.m. one day in November 2007, Jason Sear started getting stomach pains.
"We just live up the hill from the hospital, and by the time we got him to the hospital, he was in very severe pain. We just thought it might be kidney stones or something because there was no real family history," Stacey Sear said.
Dr. Allen Belshaw, a general surgeon at YVMC, worked through the night analyzing Jason Sear's symptoms and delivered a diagnosis of adrenocortical carcinoma, Sear said.
"Dr. Belshaw saved his life because at that point he had internal bleeding, and most doctors would have opened him up right then, but Dr. Belshaw knew we had to get him to a cancer hospital," Stacey Sear said.
Jason Sear went to The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for surgery and treatment. A tumor that was inside Jason Sear's adrenal gland - sitting on top of his kidney - had burst, causing internal bleeding and freeing cancer cells into his bloodstream, Stacey Sear said. When Jason Sear's doctors learned the cancer had spread, he started an aggressive chemotherapy regimen designed to abate the disease for as long as possible.
"It's an extremely rare cancer with no cure," Stacey Sear said.
Doctors wouldn't give the Sear family an estimate for how long the fight might go on - Stacey Sear said she read about typical timelines for Stage 4 adrenocortical carcinoma during that first trip to M.D. Anderson.
"I remember reading in Houston that most people will die within six months," she said.
Jason Sear wasn't going to accept that timeline. He started an uncommonly intense treatment schedule to fight the progression of the disease for as long as possible.
"From the moment he was diagnosed, he was ready to fight, for those three kids. : He endured more chemo - I mean his doctor at M.D. Anderson, (Jason) would push him to give him more, to 'give me the maximum, I've got to beat this for the kids,'" Stacey Sear said. "He never took a step back. He wanted more and more and more treatment to see if there was any way he could beat this, for the kids, or at least give them more time."
Thanks to the staff of the infusion therapy room at Yampa Valley Medical Center, Jason Sear was able to do many of his treatments in Steamboat, going to the center for eight hours each day and coming home to his children at night, Stacey Sear said.
"He did that for basically 15 months," she said. Jason Sear's treatment schedule was intense, with 10 days on and then 18 days off, repeating the cycle again and again.
"At night, the kids could get in bed and cuddle with him, and we could still be a family," Stacey Sear said. The YVMC staff worked closely with M.D. Anderson on Jason Sear's case, Fritz said.
"The care he received at Yampa Valley was just phenomenal," Stacey Sear said, adding that the medical center "played a huge part in saving his life and giving us 18 more months with him."
Jason Sear referred to the nursing staff at the infusion room - Fritz, along with Terri Hawkins, Tina Livingston, Jen Jenson and Shannon Sheldon - as his "girlfriends," Stacey Sear said.
Fritz said Jason Sear's demeanor always was positive. You could tell when Jason was in the treatment center because his enormous shoes would be there on the floor, she said. More than that, he would be out engaging everyone he could, joking with nurses by pretending to snore during treatments or asking other patients about their day.
"It didn't matter who you were in the hallway; he would greet you and ask you a question," Fritz said. Jason Sear often asked about people who came to the infusion room when they weren't there, she said.
"He was very compassionate with people, and he made a lot of friends very easily," Fritz said.
Until less than a week before Jason Sear lost his fight with cancer, no one considered an end, Stacey Sear said.
"From the moment he was diagnosed, we were in battle, so we would never stop to think about that, about not - it was like we were in battle the whole time," she said.
Jason Sear died May 11, a Monday. Up until the previous Friday, he and his family never stopped to think about the battle ending.
"We always just fought, just kept fighting and going forward and fighting and fighting," Stacey Sear said.
Jason Sear had come home from a scan in Houston that Wednesday and went straight to "see his girlfriends" at the infusion room, Stacey Sear said. The nurses gave him the usual quick blood test after travel and noticed his kidneys weren't doing well, she said. Fritz told the family to come back Friday to do the test again.
"That's when we knew the fight was over because his kidneys had failed," Sear said.
The hospital became a hospice room, with Jason Sear's "girlfriends" and much of the YVMC staff making the environment as comfortable as possible for their friend.
"They made Friday through Monday as pleasant as it could be for Jason and his kids," Stacey Sear said.
Strength in community
Stacey Sear can list dozens of people who have been instrumental in keeping the keel of life as even as possible for her family during the past two years. Especially for Nick, Tatum and Jake, without this community, the family's fight with cancer would have been close to impossible, she said.
"I could not have done the last year and a half without all the help of our friends, with just a meal or helping with a carpool and helping to get the kids to an out-of-town game and just being our friends," Stacey Sear said.
The staff at Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School watched after the Sear children, Stacey Sear said, listing teachers Brad Weber, Jennifer McCannon, Colleen Ryan and Chris Elliott as key factors.
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coaches Cory Prager and Jonah Drescher have stepped up as role models for the young boys, Sear said.
In the past few months, Stacey Sear has enlisted the help of mothers from her children's sports teams to get her children's friends and teammates to walk in the Relay For Life event scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Friday.
Kerry Holmquist, Karen Draper and Linda Sobeck have sent out e-mails to fellow team parents to round up as many young walkers as possible, Stacey Sear said.
Relay For Life
For the 2008 Relay For Life, the Sear family rushed to the Steamboat Springs High School track just hours after Jason Sear had finished his chemotherapy treatment for the day. They gathered a few of the children's friends, bought some matching T-shirts and made it to the event just in time for the kick-off survivors' lap.
"We weren't sure if he would be able to do it because he had truly just come from chemo, but he did it," Stacey Sear said.
This year, Stacey Sear has recruited family members as fundraisers. As of Saturday afternoon, Team Sear had raised $7,400, placing them third in Steamboat's fundraising rankings. At the event, Stacey Sear will join her children and their friends and sports teammates to walk through the night as part of the 42 teams and 452 participants registered as of Saturday for Relay. Registration is open through the event Friday. Stacey Sear said she was impressed by the community and spirit at the 2008 event and wants to share that feeling with a younger age group.
"What I want is for the kids' friends to experience what we experienced last year, and my hope is to expose kids at this young age to what charity is about," she said.
Through the past two years, diagnosis and treatment, participating in Relay For Life, starting a battle and fighting hard through the end, Jason Sear kept spirits high for everyone who knew him, friends and family said.
"He did not let the cancer define who he was. He was Jason - he wasn't Jason with cancer; he was just Jason," Fritz said. "He was quite a guy."