By Mary Therese Biebel, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
W-B toddler one reason for annual Renal Race which benefits cancer fights
WILKES-BARRE — Visit a Facebook page called “nathanthesuperhero” and you’ll see 3-year-old Nathan Gray, of Wilkes-Barre, punching the heck out of a smiley-face balloon, doing squats while balancing a book on his head, and playing ring-around-the-rosy with his older brother and younger sister.
“He’s all boy,” mom Tricia Gray said in a telephone interview. “Very active, always climbing and jumping and playing superheros.”
During the past year Nathan has been using much of his strength and spirit to fight kidney cancer. He has undergone biopsies and strong chemotherapy, survived a collapsed lung and spent 150 days in Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville.
His cancer has been diagnosed as Wilms’ Tumor, the most common type of kidney cancer in children. Unfortunately, Tricia Gray noted, “we are among the few Wilms’ that do not fall into the ‘easy to treat’ ” category.
Nevertheless Nathan is determined to, as his Facebook page puts it, “kick cancer’s butt.”
Tricia and dad Jeff are hopeful their son will feel well enough on March 12 that the whole family — which includes Nathan’s 5-year-old brother, Jeffrey, and sister, Natalie, who is almost 2 — can attend the annual downtown Wilkes-Barre’s annual Renal Race, which benefits the Kidney Cancer Association.
Erin Rebo-Pikul, of Wilkes-Barre, has organized the annual 5K since 2012, the year after her husband, Frank, began his own battle against kidney cancer.
The race has raised more than $50,000 for the association, Rebo-Pikul said, and it has helped her family come to terms with her husband’s illness.
“The Renal Race became bigger than the cancer,” she wrote for the Renal Race website. “We were helping other people when we didn’t even know how to help ourselves. And that is something unbelievable.”
“The Renal Race allowed us to appreciate this whole year so much more,” Rebo-Pikul continued. “We had a blast at the beach. We took (the couple’s young son) Jaxon to the park more. We had date nights. We played board games together. We went to dinner every Friday and Saturday together with friends and family. We planned more vacations. We lived.”
Nathan’s family similarly looks for joy in every day, Tricia Gray said, admitting “I have to laugh” as she recalled her little boy sliding around on his tummy six days after surgery had left him with an 8-inch abdominal incision. “The kid has a tolerance for pain you wouldn’t believe.”
Yet as she eloquently explained on Nathan’s Facebook page, it’s been a difficult year since the diagnosis.
“We are not hysterical like we were a year ago (although my eye won’t stop twitching),” she wrote. “We are as ready as we can be for the next step of Nathan’s fight whatever it may be. Not a day has gone by in one year that I don’t question whether I will lose my son. The thought of that is indescribable. I’m terrified …
“I pray next year will be better, a month from now, a week from now,” she wrote. “Until then we are ready to do whatever we need to. Little man is even a ‘big guy’ now and doesn’t need to sit on my lap for labs!”
The deadline to preregister for the Renal Race is past, but participants can still register starting at 8 a.m. March 12 at Genetti’s Best Western, 77 East Market St., Wilkes-Barre. The fee is $20. The race begins at 10 a.m. on Public Square, crosses the Market Street Bridge and travels through Kirby Park before returning to Public Square. Prizes will be given out to the top male and female finishers in their age categories.
If you’d like a shorter distance, a one-mile walk will also be held that morning. If you’d like to donate to the cause, checks may be sent to The Renal Race, in care of Erin Rebo-Pikul, 104 Grebe St., Wilkes-Barre PA 18702.
The race precedes Wilkes-Barre’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which begins at 2 p.m. Another family-friendly event on March 12, set for 11 a.m. at Barnes & Noble Bookstore on South Main Street, will give children a chance to color pictures of leprechauns. At noon, author Fran Spencer, of Nanticoke, will read her book “Ian-John and the Leprechaun” at Barnes & Noble.