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Young Cancer Survivors Enjoy a Day at Six Flags

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Sunday marked Alex Richman's first day off chemotherapy, and the 6-year-old boy was jumping for joy in his white sneakers.

The night before, his east Cobb family took all his leftover pills and flushed them down the toilet. Sunday they took the boy to Six Flags Over Georgia.

There, Alex became a whirling, cheering first-grader in full-tilt happy kid mode. He used his long balloon to sword fight his big brother. He rode the runaway train. He accompanied his dad on the bumper cars, saying zany things to other drivers.

"Great" was how he said he felt, following three years of treatment for blood cancer. "I don't have to worry about shots. I don't have to take pills. I don't have to worry about not being healthy."

Alex's big day came as part of a celebration for 400 metro Atlanta children who no longer require cancer treatment. The young cancer survivors all got a day at Six Flags thanks to Cure Childhood Cancer, an Atlanta nonprofit dedicated to conquering childhood cancer through research, education and support of patients and their families.

"This is a day about hope. It's about the resilience of children. It's about the will to survive, to win and to live," said Cure board member Jane Bick. "It's about all the things important in life."

For the kids, it was a day about roller coasters, clowns, hot dogs and kissing a dog puppet named Bingo. They had all come so far from when they were diagnosed with cancer, when their families were plunged into a despairing cycle of hospital stays, doctor visits and late-night drives to the emergency room.

Alex's illness began when he was 2 1/2 with months of coldlike symptoms and trouble breathing at night. Finally, his mother demanded the doctors find an answer. They did: acute lymphoblastic lymphoma.

Through the treatments with chemotherapy and steroids, Alex's hair fell out, his face swelled, and he became irritable.

But Sunday was a day for putting all that behind him.

Geno Lewis, 9, felt the same way. The Austell boy stopped his treatment for kidney cancer four years ago. There were times he was so sick he cried red tears, recalled his grandmother, Sunshine Lewis. Now he dreams of being a basketball star.

Throughout the sunny day in the park, children just off treatment celebrated with former patients who have grown to adulthood.

Lauren Gearon, a 35-year-old Atlanta woman, is expecting her third baby.

"It's only now that I'm a parent," she said, "that I understand what my mother went through."

Katie Tanner, 23, who lost her left leg to a bone tumor as a child, just moved into her first apartment in Alpharetta. She's been coming to these Cure days for years.

"It's so nice to see us grown up," she said.

On this day, the kids' biggest worry was whether they were tall enough to ride a bumper car alone.

For their parents, it was a day filled with better days ahead.

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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