Woodbury cancer survivor goes back on the offensiveWhen Colin Raehsler pulls on his hockey jersey, he does it with purpose.
By: Mike Longaecker, Woodbury Bulletin
When Colin Raehsler pulls on his hockey jersey, he does it with purpose.
The sweater has the No. 10 on the back – a symbol that holds a special place in the Woodbury High School graduate’s heart and memory.
The No. 10 represents the odds he once faced as a cancer patient. In 2001, Raehsler was given a 10 percent chance of surviving another five years.
Now 21, he is cancer-free and looking to battle the disease on a different level. Raehsler, a student at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., will be one of the guest speakers featured this month at a campus rally against cancer.
He said he’s become passionate about going on the offensive against the disease and spreading his message.
“Attack opportunities where you see them, because you may not get a second chance,” Raehsler said.
Raehsler knows he’s fortunate to have that second chance.
Becoming the ‘10’
A March 15, 2000, story in the Woodbury Bulletin first called the community’s attention to Raehsler.
“We hadn’t even gotten to the bad part yet,” Brian Raehsler, Colin’s father, said, clutching a copy of the 12-year-old newspaper as he reminisced.
At the time, Colin had been diagnosed with bone cancer in his arm and was in pre-op mode. His family opted against a recommendation calling for amputation and sought out a Manhattan, N.Y., based cancer treatment facility.
Doctors there were able to salvage Colin’s arm, but had to remove a bone in his forearm. Along with chemotherapy treatment, it appeared to do the trick.
All seemed to be well.
“You get past it and you move on,” Brian said.
Fast-forward to August 2001. The cancer was back. With a vengeance.
The Raehslers learned that this time it had developed in Colin’s lungs. That was when the parents got the gut-wrenching prognosis that Colin probably wouldn’t survive another five years.
A tumor was removed from one of Colin’s lungs, but another one remained – and didn’t respond to chemo.
The battle ramped back up.
The Raehslers turned to an experimental treatment developed by the Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic. The treatment involved an inhalant system that forced the medicine directly into the lungs, with the goal of stimulating white blood cells.
With no idea whether the treatment would work, the Raehslers took Colin in for a checkup with doctors.
The verdict? It was working like a charm.
In November 2001, the tumor was removed and there was no evidence of any remaining cancer.
“We believe that (the experimental inhalant) was kind of the key technology that really worked,” Brian said.
While Colin went on with his life – playing hockey and being a normal kid – his parents held onto a secret: he still wasn’t out of the woods. The parents decided not to share the dire prognosis with their son.
Not until 2006, when the five years were up.
“And then we told him the other part of the story,” Brian said.
Colin said he was shocked by the news.
“I didn’t really know how bad it was,” he said. “I knew it was a little more difficult because of the experimental work.
“I knew it was different – I just didn’t know how different it was.”
There was another part of the story Brian held onto. He didn’t share that until sitting down in March for an interview with the Bulletin.
That’s when he told Colin what the doctors had predicted: that the cancer would attack the boy’s lungs until they calcified, ultimately killing him.
“It would be a slow … “ Brian said, trailing off, not allowing the word “death” to escape his lips.
‘You’ve got to live life to the fullest’
Even after knocking down the cancer, Colin is still up for a fight.
A college junior, he joined the Colleges Against Cancer group at Augustana. Colin said he was seeking out volunteer opportunities on campus when someone suggested he check out the group.
He went. At the first meeting, group members went around a circle and explained how they had been affected by cancer. Colin was the only one among them who was an actual cancer survivor.
He’s been hooked ever since.
Colin said he’s most fired up about raising money for research and development of experimental treatments, like the one that saved his life.
“Finding the new technology is one of the things that drives me to be part of this group,” he said.
On April 28, he takes his participation to a new level. That’s when he will deliver the speech.
“I’ve always wanted to share my story,” he said.
Colin said that while he hadn’t yet written it out, he knows what message he plans to convey.
“You’ve got to live life to the fullest,” he said. “Even if you don’t make it, your legacy will continue on.”
Like Colin, his father is excited for the speech. He knows the impact Colin’s words can make, having seen the essays his son has submitted for cancer-related scholarships.
“I think it’s great,” Brian said. “It gives people hope. He is exceptional.”