SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Ashley Kubik remembers the prognosis like the words are still hanging in the air.
It’s what doctors told her and husband Brian after they took 20-month-son Cross in for a CAT scan during the summer of 2005, the Springfield News-Leader (http://sgfnow.co/2eoZFGO ) reported.
He had been enduring stomach problems for a few weeks. He wasn’t eating and complained of stomach pain.
Finally, the scan was ordered, and it revealed a central nervous system tumor measuring 8 centimeters by 12 centimeters. The tumor called a neuroblastoma, was in his abdomen, his kidney and wrapped around his aorta.
Brian and Ashley were told to take their son home on hospice care. A death sentence for their only child.
“It was the worst day of our lives,” Brian said.
Flash-forward to today. Cross Kubik is a strong 12-year-old in the seventh grade at Cherokee Middle School. He’s a straight-A student, respectful to teachers and popular with other students. And a rising star on the youth baseball scene.
He’s played on the Southwest Missouri Bombers for the last seven seasons, winning a pair of state championships in the last three years. This past summer, he was selected for an All-American team and went to Orlando, Florida, to play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
“It was amazing,” Cross said. “I never expected something like that to happen. It was some of the best in the country down there, and I was able to play with them. I was really proud of that.”
It was a long way from that fateful day – Aug. 25, 2005 – when his parents took the other option given to them by the local doctors, to go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
The Kubiks went home from their doctor’s visit, packed and set straight out for Memphis.
They left their jobs, Ashley, as a nurse practitioner and Brian as the president of an architecture firm, and their lives in Springfield to try and save their only child against all odds.
Ashley held their crying baby in her arms and prayed through the entire five-hour trip, while Brian drove and tried to make sense of how they would make their new normal work.
“The whole time I was driving,” Brian said, “I was just like, ‘Ashley, we’ll just sell everything. Everything we have.’ Which wasn’t much, but we’ll sell everything and we’ll move there and get this done.
“That was kind of the trip. Five hours of that talk.”
When they arrived at St. Jude about 1 a.m., doctors and nurses were waiting, with an inspirational message.
“The nurse told us, ‘You’ve received the worst news of your life, but you are in the best place in the world possible to treat your son,’ ” Brian said. “At that point, we felt like we had done all that we can, humanly possible, is to get him at this place.
“We’ll have love for St. Jude for the rest of our lives, for what they’ve done for our family.”
Neuroblastoma, the type of tumor Cross had, is the most common tumor in infants younger than 1 year of age.
Doctors gave Cross between a 10 and 30 percent chance of survival when he arrived at St. Jude. After testing, they received more bad news: tests revealed Cross’s cell type is typically unresponsive to chemotherapeutic drugs.
That dropped his chance of survival to less than 10 percent.
“I just felt like we kept getting slapped in the face and slapped in the face,” Ashley said, “and we said, ‘You know what? We’re going to beat this. We’re going to defy the odds.'”
The FDA had just approved a new protocol, one that had never been used on humans before. Cross was the first to receive experimental drug ZD-1839, starting a 14-month period when the Kubiks lived in Memphis.
After two weeks, the tumor shrank by 50 percent. A good sign, but the family was still in the first steps of the process. A full recovery remained a long shot, and some of the most painful and grueling parts of the treatment were ahead of them.
Cross went through 13 rounds of chemotherapy, then a 12-hour surgical procedure that December to remove what was left of the tumor.
Ashley, who is a nurse practitioner at Mercy Health Clinic and a clinical supervisor at the Missouri State School of Nursing, said neuroblastoma is a sticky tumor, and the one in Cross’s midsection was wrapped around all of his internal organs.
“They literally had to take each of his organs and peel the tumors off of them,” she said.
After the surgery, he still had metastatic disease throughout his body, in his spine, chest and bone marrow, and bone marrow disease as well.
Following a bone marrow harvest, Cross went through 17 rounds of radiation, then a bone marrow transplant in June of 2006. Doctors prepared the family for three months of not leaving the floor at St. Jude after the surgery, but tests before the transplant couldn’t detect cancer anywhere in his body.
Eight days after the transplant, he had cells recovering, an unheard-of time frame to show such signs of recovery.
On top of all that, doctors warned that if Cross did survive the neuroblastoma, he would likely have learning disabilities, limited or complete loss of vision, and hearing loss.
None of that has happened. He has 20-20 vision, perfect hearing and is a Presidential scholar.
“It’s ridiculous,” Ashley said. “He’s a phenomenally well-rounded child. He’s a miracle, by all definition.”
Eleven years later, just the mention of St. Jude brings a warm smile to the faces of Brian and Ashley. They are regulars at whatever St. Jude event or fundraiser is held on the local level.
Brian, the principal architect and corporate president at Buxton Kubik Dodd Creative, handled much of the work when Mercy Children’s Hospital opened a St. Jude Domestic Affiliate Clinic.
The Kubik family now includes a pair of daughters, 8-year-old Creighton and 5-year-old Crosby Jude – with her middle name in honor of the hospital that means so much to the family. They went back to Memphis over the summer to revisit the place where a miracle happened.
“We do feel like we’ve got the responsibility of sharing the hope that people should have in these situations,” Brian said. “If there’s not much there, but if they see something like that, that’s such a success, then it makes you feel better.
“If you get told that your child is going to die, then you can say, ‘Well, that Cross survived, so we can survive, too.’ “
The family’s faith also played a big role in helping them get through the worst that life dealt them.
“We’ve always been Christians, and our families grew up in that environment,” Ashley said. “It took it to a whole new level.
“I’ll never forget the day we knew that the clarity of our faith is insurmountable. Part of that is we emulate that onto Cross and to the girls, to help them understand that without God’s presence and his touch on this whole thing and the wisdom he gave to St. Jude, Cross wouldn’t be here. We know that.”
These days, Cross is playing basketball and baseball. He doesn’t remember much about his illness or early treatment but still goes back for annual checkups.
He says the checkups don’t frighten him, but they do give his parents a chance to talk about how fortunate he is.
“They’ve told me a lot about how they felt, obviously,” Cross said. “They’ve told me a lot about how sad it was for them when it happened. I really don’t remember anything much, but the doctors were amazing.
“The doctors were the best part about the whole time – they became family to me.”
He still has a scar from his surgery that tells some of his story and draws attention at times.
“I tell them what I know about it,” Cross said. “I’m not scared about it — I’m proud of it.”
Cross pesters his parents to take him to the batting cages for quick tune ups on his swing. During the offseason, he works with Jason Hart, the former Missouri State slugger who is the hitting coach with the Frisco RoughRiders of the Texas League. They’ve developed a close friendship.
Whatever they are working on seems to be working.
He hit nearly .500 for the Bombers this season, belting 15 home runs. He won a home run derby as his team played in a tournament at the new Branson Ballparks of America, then was picked for the All-American trip to Florida.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Brian said. “You just can’t imagine, a kid as frail as he was, and he overcame all odds. Not only to come back and live amongst the rest of us, but he’s excelling.”
He wants to play baseball at Kickapoo High School, then would love to follow in Hart’s shoes and play for coach Keith Guttin at Missouri State.
A career in the medical field, as an orthopedic surgeon for baseball, or in sports medicine, is another area of interest.
That is if he doesn’t beat the odds and make a career out of baseball.
Given the obstacles he’s beaten so far, though, odds may not mean much to him.