Cancer battles forged friendship among vets


Staff photo: Joshua Lucero Cancer survivor Grayson Boerio, 2, dances with his aunt, Kaitlan Massey, during the 2014 Portales Relay for Life event Friday night at Greyhound Arena.

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Old friends Harold Goodrich and Dennis Darrow sat side-by-side Friday night in a row of chairs that rimmed the top of the Eastern New Mexico University Greyhound Arena wearing matching purple shirts.

While the two caught up, leaning in to share a few words over the rhythmic pop music blaring through the speakers, Darrow pointed downward to the gym floor where a toddler was dancing non-stop.

“Can you believe that little guy is a cancer survivor?” said Darrow, pointing to Grayson Boerio, a 2-year-old from Clovis who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a common cancer typically diagnosed in childhood and infancy, at 19 months. Grayson went into remission last week, according to his mother.

Grayson had the type of energy to dance all night and he needed it as the Portales Relay for Life stretches into the early hours of Saturday.

link Staff photo: Joshua Lucero

Cancer survivor Grayson Boerio, 2, dances with his aunt, Kaitlan Massey, during the 2014 Portales Relay for Life event Friday night at Greyhound Arena.

Grayson, wearing the same shirt as Darrow and Goodrich, was part of the group of cancer survivors honored at the annual American Cancer Society event that raises money and awareness for cancer research.

Meanwhile back where Goodrich and Darrow were sitting, the survivor lap was preparing to start.

Goodrich said it took him 236 steps to walk around the arena. Those steps were taken in pride to celebrate the 15 years he’s been cancer free, a fight that would have been a hard one without his faith and friend Darrow.

The 76-year-old Air Force veteran from St. Louis came to the area in 1979 when he retired from a 26-year military career.

Goodrich was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999. He said faith and his friendship with Darrow, who is also a veteran and cancer survivor, helped him through his time with cancer.

“I drew strength from the good Bible,” Goodrich said.

Darrow, 77, who served in the U.S. Army, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997. By 1998, Darrow said he was cancer free but in 2006, his wife died of cancer.

Darrow was working at an automotive business when he was diagnosed. Goodrich met him while getting his vehicle serviced, and a friendship was born.

He’d often go pray for Darrow with his father-in-law at the church at Cannon Air Force Base.

“He’s been a good friend,” said Darrow of Goodrich. “We have common ground. Us cancer survivors stick together.”

Goodrich said he’s shown up to walk the survivor lap at Relay for the last 15 years. Goodrich said its important to keep coming to inspire other cancer patients and survivors.

"It gives us an incentive to meet with other folks who are trying to cope with it,” Goodrich said.

Grayson brought an entourage of supporters Friday night. His mother Tristan Boerio said her son underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and six months of immunotherapy.

Faith and music has been a big part of the family’s healing, according to Tristan Boerio. Her husband is a band director for Clovis schools.

“We’re just incredibly blessed,” said Tristan Boerio. “He’s very resilient. He’s bounced back very well.”

Elvira Tisthammer has been a regular at Relay for Life since 2007, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The 64-year-old substitute teacher said while she celebrates her survival, she walks for her youngest son Jake

Tisthammer, who died from kidney cancer in 2010.

Her son was 20 when he died.

“It was horrible, it was a nightmare,” Tisthammer said.

She said her son’s cancer was discovered when he was 19. By the time doctors found it, it had already reached his bones.

Tisthammer said she attends Relay to advocate for early detection.

“I hope people get out of this the fact that they can survive cancer if they catch it early,” Tisthammer said.


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