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Children from England find cancer treatment, kindness in Oklahoma

Several families from England have come to Oklahoma for a cancer treatment known as proton therapy. Along the way, they've not only found something to fight the disease but also something to help ease their emotional pain.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: April 13, 2012

They didn't expect people in Oklahoma to be so nice to them.

They were used to the people back home in England, staring at their 8-year-old son's eye tumor.

So when Paula Hitchen and Steve Lavender stepped off the plane in Oklahoma City with their son, Connah, they didn't expect to be shown repeated kindness.

“When I came here, not just at the hospital, but everybody, they're brilliant,” Lavender said. “They don't stare — everybody is great. It's something I can't explain, but you feel at ease.”

The family has been in Oklahoma for the past few weeks as Connah undergoes proton therapy for his orbital tumor, which at one point was coming out of his eye socket.

The ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City is one of about 10 proton therapy centers in the United States and one of about 35 in the world.

The Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City plans to open another proton therapy center at the end of the year.

Proton therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses beams of particles called protons to target cancer cells, according to the National Institutes of Health. Other types of cancer treatment generally use X-rays to attack cancer cells.

More than just ‘Oklahoma!'

All that Connah's parents knew of Oklahoma was the musical of the same name.

When they arrived at the Will Rogers World Airport, they didn't expect staff to have a wheelchair waiting for Connah, who needs a wheelchair sometimes because of the pain from chemotherapy.

The man pushing the wheelchair immediately started joking with them, imitating a British accent and trying to talk like Ozzy Osbourne.

This was the first of many friendly encounters the family has had, they said. Whenever someone does look at Connah, they usually come up to the family, ask what Connah's name is and tell the family they will pray for them.

This kindness helps Hitchen and Lavender cope, they said. The family's journey since Connah's cancer was discovered hasn't been easy.

At one point, Connah's tumor was so large he needed a sling on his face to hold the tumor and keep the fluids it leaked from getting on his face.

But Connah does not act like a sick child. He does not complain about the tests and the treatment and the side effects of his treatment.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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