6-month-old Adam Schmaltz is winning the battle against cancer
This isn't a story that will make you cry. This is a story that will make you happy.
This isn't a story about a frail little boy who is dying from cancer. This is a story about a boy with chubby cheeks who is beating cancer.
This is the story about Adam Schmaltz, a little boy from Hastings that you'd love being around.
Even as chemotherapy drugs drip into his system, he hops around at the hospital in his favorite toy. He flirts with one of the nurses by chewing on her sleeve, leaving it covered in that sweet-smelling baby saliva.
At home a week later, he's still the same guy. He chews on his fingers, chews on plastic toys and chews on a purple monkey. And he smiles.
But this paints a much different picture than the one laid out before Lynette and Allen Schmaltz last fall.
At just two-months old, their little bundle of joy had a bloated stomach, and small bumps started to appear on his body. One Friday morning in October, Lynette and Allen took little Adam to Children's Hospital in St. Paul for what they thought was a simple acid reflux test. By the time the day was over, they had learned their son had neuroblastoma, a form of cancer.
"I was just in a daze," Allen Schmaltz said, "a complete and utter daze."
"You feel like you're having a really bad dream, but you know that this is real," Lynette Schmaltz said. "It was the worst day of my life."
Chemotherapy treatments began right away and things got worse before they got better. Adam received his first round of the drugs and a week later, he was in bad shape. His brother, Taylor, was ill and Adam picked up that illness, too. He had sores in his mouth and was in pain. Adam ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit, which for Allen marked the low point of the entire ordeal.
"That was worse than the first day for me," he said. "There's nothing you can do. You couldn't even hold him."
But by Dec. 17, after four rounds of the drugs, Adam's appearance had changed considerably. The bumps were gone and the size of his stomach had gone down. Scans confirmed the good news: Adam was winning the battle.
From the day of the diagnosis, doctors told the Schmaltz family that if Adam were going to have cancer, neuroblastoma is the best cancer he can have at his age. Still, the diagnosis put all kinds of fear in Lynette.
She remembers telling herself: "If I let myself get too close (to Adam), it's going to hurt more." Soon after having those thoughts, she abandoned them and did everything she could to get close to Adam.
For Allen, everything changed with the diagnosis. He said he didn't spend as much time being the "happy dad" with his second son. He was working a lot as an operator at Flint Hills Resources and just wasn't around as much.
"It's horrible that something like this has to do it, but my whole life changed," he said.
"I've had a tail light out since October. That's just not that big of a deal."
Now, Friday nights are family nights. The Schmaltzes go to Pleasant Hill Library, pick out a movie, make popcorn at home and all sit together.
That's a far cry from what was happening in the months following the diagnosis, though. They were told by a case worker that the divorce rate was high for families who had children go through such an ordeal.
Adam and Lynette soon saw why the rate was so high.
They didn't talk, and everything was breaking down. So, they asked Lynette's mother Diane, in town from Bismarck, to watch over Adam and Taylor.
Allen and Lynette went to Dunn Bros Coffee and talked it out. It was exactly what they needed and since that talk, everything has been better.
Everyone is healing at the house. The relationship between Lynette and Allen is fixed, and Adam is getting better. Doctors are encouraged by his progress and despite the chemo, Adam is hitting all his milestones in terms of development. He does have some hearing loss, but if that's the worst that comes from all of this, the Schmaltzes will consider themselves lucky.
The silver linings
An amazing amount of great things have come from all of this. Adam, Taylor, Lynette and Allen are all much closer. Everyone has a sincere appreciation for the care they've been given at Children's Hospital, and they have been astounded at what the doctors have been able to do with Adam's treatments.
The Schmaltzes have also had their friendship strengthened with Hastings residents Chris and Amy Schaffer. Allen and Chris work together at the refinery, and the couples live near one another.
The upcoming benefit was Amy's idea.
"Amy has the biggest heart," Lynette said. "She will do anything for anybody, and she doesn't want anything in return."
That's exactly how Amy Schaffer feels about the Schmaltzes, too. That's why she got started organizing the benefit.
"I couldn't do anything to make (Adam) better, but I couldn't stop thinking about things I could do to make the situation better," Schaffer said. "I had to do it. I felt like I had to do something. They're amazing people, and they're an amazing family.
"Whenever I've needed anything, Lynette and Allen are there for me."
In October 2007, Adam was diagnosed with stage IV, intermediate risk neuroblastoma.
Stage IV is the worst -- it means the cancer has spread.
He had a tumor the size of a mini-basketball, and he had satellite tumors throughout his body.
Approximately 600 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Adam was born with the disease. Doctors don't know what causes it, but many believe it is an accidental cell growth that occurs during normal development of the adrenal glands.
"Before Adam, we were all na?ve," Schaffer said. "Babies were born and were healthy. This has changed all that. It's just crazy to hear those two words in the same sentence -- cancer and baby."