When the going gets tough, real friends stick around. That’s one way to summarize how Keith Tatham, 18, has survived and excelled during his last year of high school.
In August, Tatham was diagnosed with a type of abdominal cancer that typically attacks young people.
“It’s a very rare cancer, and it’s so fast progressing that you have to hit it with everything you got,” said Tatham, explaining that he first went through seven rounds of chemotherapy, then another eight rounds and finally major abdominal surgery. “It took 36 staples to put me back together again.”
Tatham is this year’s distinguished graduate from Gonzaga Preparatory School – he’s also enrolled at North Central High School, a combination that let him catch up on missed school time with the help of a tutor.
“My doctors said to only take two classes while I was going through all this,” said Tatham. “But I managed to keep six.” Tatham has been accepted at the University of Washington, and would like to pursue a law degree.
“You could consider me a history buff,” Tatham said. “I wanted to take debate but the music kept me from that.”
He’s played the trumpet for 10 years and last year, while he was in the middle of battling cancer, local musicians set up a chance for him to play with Wynton Marsalis when the world-famous musician was in town for a concert.
“We played together during the sound check, he mentored me and we had lots of fun,” Tatham said. “He gave me his e-mail address and we still mail back and forth a bit.”
Tatham’s cancer is now in remission, but the surgery left him with nerve damage in his hands.
“It wasn’t pain from the surgery and the scar, it was pain in my hands that kept me up at night,” Tatham said. “I have more sensation already, and I should make a full recovery.”
Central to Tatham’s life are his friends. Together, they go to movies and concerts and do their best to find something to do.
“We try to use our time on something memorable,” said Tatham. “One time we went to my grandma’s house and had her teach us how to make apple pie. She makes the best pie.”
For now, Tatham is busy finishing up projects and applying for college scholarships.
“It’s my family and my friends who have gotten me through this,” Tatham said.