Strength in adversity|Diagnosis alters their lives

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 26, 2009

Adversity, they say, builds strength. Since September, Lisa Coleson has had plenty of adversity, and needed plenty of strength.

Six months ago, she learned Kyle, 18 and the older of her two sons, has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Coleson’s younger son, 14-year-old Cody, suffers from a mild form of cerebral palsy. In January, Coleson lost her job. She is about to lose her home.

To help the Colesons

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* “Prayers for Kyle” bracelets can be purchased for $5. Call Patty Meekus at St. Aloysius High School, 601-636-2256, for information on how to find a student selling bracelets.

• A benefit concert for Kyle Coleson has been set for 7 p.m. June 20 at City Auditorium, featuring country rocker Sean McConnell, who is donating his services. Pre-concert activities and food are also on tap for the event. Ticket prices to be announced, and will be available at Ticketmaster.

* A non-profit organization has been set up to receive donations, which can be made out to The Kyle Coleson Foundation and sent to BancorpSouth, 820 South St., Vicksburg 39180.

“I’m not sure what the future is,” she said, sitting in the living room of her rural home southeast of the city on Timberlane Place, “but me and the boys are going to pull together and get through it.”

At the beginning of September, Kyle was a healthy 17-year-old, a junior at Vicksburg High School with an after-school job at the Super Jr. He’d just started at VHS, having previously attended St. Aloysius, where he was first baseman on the baseball team and played a variety of positions in football. He was a pretty good student — “nothing below a C,” he said with a smile.

Before the end of the month, it had all changed.

Kyle began to feel like his bones were hurting, and Lisa noticed he seemed to be bruising easily. She took him to Vicksburg pediatrician Thomas Moore, who immediately ordered blood work and sent Kyle and Lisa to Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children at University Medical Center in Jackson. Tests revealed the blood cancer.

“Leukemia just hits you real fast,” Lisa Coleson said. “When it hits, it just attacks and starts killing off all your white blood cells. It takes over your bone marrow.”

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society estimated that in 2008, about 5,430 people in the United States would be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The most common type of childhood leukemia, it most often affects children younger than 15, but adults older than 45 can also contract it.

“ALL starts with a change to a single cell in the bone marrow,” the Web site of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society says. “Scientists are studying the exact genetic changes that cause a normal cell to become an ALL cell.”

Adversity has shown Lisa Coleson the strength of her son.

“When he first got diagnosed, I learned a lot about Kyle,” she said, the words coming slowly as she gazed across the living room at him. “He’s been very strong, which made me strong. The first day we were there, at the hospital, he was laughing and carrying on, trying to make everybody else feel good.”

“He’s always like that,” said family friend Patty Meekus. “Always smiling.”

Currently, Kyle goes to Jackson once a week for chemo treatments. He also is on a regimen of steroids, one week on and one week off. Treatment includes spinal taps and bone marrow aspirations performed as surgical procedures, and chemotherapy drips. “Lately they’ve been giving me chemo through my veins,” he said, necessary after a nearly disastrous string of events which began March 1 when he had to be hospitalized for 26 days with complications including a seizure-like reaction and a staph infection necessitating the removal of his chemo port. “It burns a bit,” he admitted.

Through it all, Lisa made the seemingly constant treks to visit him and still tried to keep things together at home for Cody, three dogs and two horses.

“It tears everything down,” Lisa said, “everything you’ve worked for, everything you thought you wanted and took for granted. All that goes away and you see what really matters. One minute you’ve got a well child and the next minute you’ve got a sick one. You find yourself fighting for your kid’s life.”

Cody, a student at Vicksburg Junior High School, seems to be taking Kyle’s illness in stride. “He tends to keep everything in,” Lisa said, but the two have been able to act like normal brothers, teasing and harassing each other.

Adversity has proven to Lisa Coleson the strength of her community.

Students from St. Aloysius High School are raising money by selling LIVESTRONG-like bracelets — orange, representing leukemia, Meekus said — printed “Prayers for Kyle.” The first 500 bracelets were donated by H&M Productions, with a new order due to arrive Monday.

The project has largely been handled by students Sarah Franco, KayKay DeRossette and Victoria Meekus of the Why Catholic? youth group from St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

At Bowmar Baptist Church, where the Colesons are members, a blood drive was held for Kyle last fall. So many people lined up to give blood and platelets — some with tubes in both arms — they had to close the doors, Lisa Coleson said. “They were afraid they wouldn’t get the blood back to Jackson in time.” Donations were enough to credit Kyle with a year of free blood.

People throughout the community have also called and offered help. A foundation was set up to receive donations for Kyle at BancorpSouth, and a benefit concert featuring county rocker Sean McConnell is set for June 20. McConnell is donating his services, Ameristar Hotel and Casino is covering his lodging, and private donors are paying his travel expenses.

Lisa’s former employer, Lampkin Construction, kept her on through January, and without being able to work, she faces the loss of her home soon. She’s looking for a rental and wonders where the horses, to which Cody is devoted, will go.

But her hopes for Kyle are strong.

“Most children with ALL are cured of their disease after treatment,” the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society says.

“Blair Batson has just been wonderful to us,” she said. “All the doctors and nurses are so good. I can call them any time I need anything.”

Kyle is expected to need intensive chemotherapy only through June, and then begin what is called post-induction therapy — three years of  once-a-month treatment. He’s receiving about four hours of home-schooling each week, provided by the school district, and hopes to be back in school full time in the fall.

“You have to take it day by day, and you never know what the next day will bring you,” Lisa said. “You can survive it. It’s hard, but you can do it.”


Contact Pamela Hitchins at