Monday, July 5, 2004

Jeremy Gray endured much in cancer fight


Teen stricken by tumor rare for his age

By Sharon Coolidge
Enquirer staff writer

For the past two years, Jeremy Gray refused to accept that his cancer would kill him.

The 19-year-old Lakeside Park man underwent four different kinds of chemotherapy, flying to Washington, D.C.'s National Institutes of Health, one of the world's foremost medical research centers.

"Even though he knew it was coming, we never talked about dying, we talked about living," said his mother, Jill Baker.

Mr. Gray died Saturday at home, his mother, younger brother and sister at his side.

A year and a half ago it was his mother, an ultrasound technician, who first spotted the tumor after Mr. Gray, then 17, complained about a lump on his lower back.

An oncologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center confirmed what Baker saw. Mr. Gray had adrenocortical carcinoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the adrenal glands. The tumor was as big as a football, and the cancer had spread to Mr. Gray's liver.

One in two million people get adrenocortical carcinoma, and most are in their 40s, or if they're younger, they are usually under the age of 3. There's been little research to find a cure, Baker said.

"For a teen Jeremy's age to get it was unbelievable," Baker said.

Still, Mr. Gray never said it wasn't fair. Or ask, "Why did it happen to me?" Baker said.

Instead, Mr. Gray accepted the diagnosis and focused on getting better.

Baker is divorced, and Jeremy had taken on the role of man of the house. He didn't want to leave his family alone, Baker said. "He was willing to try anything. He went through more than I can imagine."

Although she knows the treatment was painful, Baker said her son looked at every day as an adventure.

The first trip to Washington really was an adventure, Baker recalls. Wings of Mercy, a group that provides free air transportation to people seeking treatment at distant medical facilities, flew her and her son to the hospital on a "little, bitty, four-seater."

"He said that was really cool," Baker said.

In between treatments, Jeremy made as much time for school as possible and graduated with his class in 2003 from Dixie Heights High School.

Baker said to look at her son nobody would have known he had cancer, even as it ravaged him internally.

In the last three weeks, Mr. Gray was mostly bedridden, but insisted on doing things with his family.

Wheelchair bound, Mr. Gray took his mother to see the movie The Notebook and went to his brother's baseball game.

Baker said she recently asked her son if he was scared.

"He said, 'No, I'm just sad for all the things I'll miss out on,'" Baker said.

Mr. Gray is survived by his mother; his sister, Emily Baker, of Lakeside Park; his brother, Ian Baker of Lakeside Park; grandparents, Larry and Eileen Gray of Cincinnati and Marilyn and Bill Reinstatler of Cincinnati; two uncles and five cousins.

Visitation is 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Linnemann Funeral Home in Erlanger. Mass of Christian burial is Wednesday at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph Church in Crescent Springs.Mr. Gray will be buried at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell.

A fund in Jeremy Gray's name to help with funeral expenses has been set up at Fifth Third Bank.




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