In the midst of four cancer relapses during his high school career, Mitchell Carbon came face-to-face with the fact that doctors had done all they could do for him. His acute lymphoblastic leukemia had progressed to his brain, and his doctors were simply buying him time.
After being told there was nothing more they could do, Carbon’s parents, Kari and Rob, told their son he could go anywhere or do anything he wanted with the time he had left. But with his face paralyzed and his speech temporarily impaired, Mitch’s choice was to show up at University High School the next morning.
“That, I think, was just truly the most lonesome thing ever, feeling like everything’s just going to be over,” Carbon said. “You’re not ready. So it (was) just terrifying. I kept going to school, though, because it was sort of like I could still, and it was sort of just distracting me.”
But during much of his high school career, U-Hi was exactly where Carbon couldn’t be. During his sophomore year, he spent September through February on the other side of the state while he received a bone marrow transplant at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Scared and forced to take what he describes as “really awful drugs,” Carbon said, he had hardly any energy to focus on school while he was in Seattle. But with his school counselor, Kara Twining, fighting for him at school, U-Hi and the Central Valley School District made accommodations for Carbon through online classes and a district tutor.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have the GPA. They never really gave up on me when a lot of other people did,” said Carbon, who has an A-average GPA.
After the news that Carbon didn’t have much time left, Kari and Rob Carbon made a last-ditch effort to get him experimental treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Carbon became the first child in the world to receive CART-19 treatment when the disease already had spread to the brain, Kari said.
Kari Carbon said she knew the treatment might kill him, but it was a risk she had to take.
“That moment felt like one of my greatest accomplishments of my life, getting him accepted into that trial, because we had hope again,” she said. “And it’s like, even if it didn’t work, we knew we had done everything we could possibly do to save him.”
The turning point of the stay in Philadelphia was a five-day stint when Carbon was in a coma. At that point, his mother was never sure if he would wake up or what state he would be in if he did.
Carbon did wake up, and had to relearn walking and talking. But in September, within a month after arriving in Philadelphia, Carbon walked back through the doors of U-Hi for his senior year, cancer-free.
After a year he describes as his best one yet, Carbon will graduate with honors and attend Whitworth University in the fall. Although he said he still has fears of health complications, he knows that venturing out into the unknown of college life is the best step he can take.
“I’m so ready to just have a new start and not have everyone know who I am,” Carbon said. “I just think it will be the best thing for me, just a chance for me to just define myself as someone else – someone who I really am.”
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