Halfway through Patrick Dean’s freshman year at Central Valley High School, he developed a painful bump on his head. When he went to the doctor, an X-ray revealed his skull had a quarter-size hole, the result of Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare, cancerlike disorder.
Within weeks, Dean had surgery to remove bone around the hole and create a patch from the pieces. When a scan showed a similar lesion on his femur, he had another surgery to fill the hole with donor bone and a plate.
His treatment also included weekly, then biweekly chemotherapy for a year. His last round of chemotherapy was May 29, 2013, and he’s in remission and will graduate with his class, even though he missed more than a month of school during his surgeries, and many more days while going through chemotherapy.
“He was gone a lot … Some days more than once a week because of how it made him feel,” said resource room English teacher Karissa Jacobson, who said she was impressed by Dean’s drive and determination.
“He’d come back, feeling not so hot. He’d get his work, make up tests,” Jacobson said. “His ability to keep moving forward, even when he doesn’t feel well, … he’d stay after class to get things turned in.”
Because Dean could no longer participate in sports – after playing football, wrestling, track and baseball previously – he said he focused on his schoolwork instead.
“I wasn’t able to do sports so I started trying harder at school to get better grades,” he said. “It’s hard getting through the experience. It’s hard going to school every day. It’s hard not feeling well. But when you have good family it helps you get through.”
Dean credits his mother for pushing through those hard days and finding a way to be positive.
“Try to look on the bright side. There’s not much you can do when you’re in the position of health but you have to stay positive and make the best of it,” he said, noting that the experience has helped him relax and be more open to new things.
At school, Jacobson said, Dean was known for having a positive outlook and for maintaining his sense of humor and a quick wit.
“He says one-liners that get you to laugh. He makes his peers laugh,” said Jacobson, chuckling. “I think his sense of humor helped him through it. He wasn’t going to let this bump in the road stop him or slow him down. He’s a funny guy. … He’s full of life, literally smiling. He wants to make sure everyone else is having fun and enjoys the ride as well.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.