Portion of Beckman golf tourney to benefit Hunter Bowman.

September 12, 2019

Hunter Bowman

Portion of Beckman golf tourney to benefit Hunter Bowman.

LUDINGTON — Hunter Bowman is a cool 14-year-old kid with a name that sounds like he’s either a wild game expedition guide or a master archer himself. Bowman is tall for a mid-teen; he stands 6-feet, 1-inch tall and is still growing. His number one passion is physical fitness; second to that is his dog, Abby, a blue heeler that he got many years ago as a service dog. Another passion is music. No surprise there, as he’s the grandson of former longtime Ludington High School band / choir director, Bob Parker, and comes from a musically gifted family.

Bowman has also lived with a rare form of cancer for over a third of his young life.

 Diagnosed in the third grade at just nine years old, Bowman’s form of cancer is nearly unheard of in children; thyroid cancer. From the time of diagnosis through present, he has also dealt with neck and lung metastasis, sometimes making it difficult to breathe and be active, as well as critical calcium deficiencies and brittle bones that too easily fracture. But despite it all, he keeps going and doesn’t let it slow him down too much.

 “I first suspected something was wrong late in 2013,” said Miranda Bowman, Hunter’s mom. “Around Christmas, we were sledding and Hunter looked up at me from his sled. I noticed a line of lumps running down both sides of his neck and a large lump in the center, which turned out be the main 9 cm tumor on his thyroid. He had no symptoms, but I made an appointment with the doctor, who ordered some tests. We ended up going to Ann Arbor’s children’s hospital, where Hunter ultimately had two major neck surgeries and was treated with radiation therapy. From Ann Arbor, we were sent to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and from there to MD Anderson in Texas.

“So much has happened over the course of five and a half years, it would be impossible to recount all of it. Right now, Hunter is in a clinical trial at MD Anderson and we make monthly trips there for treatment and testing. Our current concern is how fragile Hunter’s bones are. He’s had multiple fractures from seemingly ordinary kid-play, such as arm wrestling. So we are watching that. It’s one of the latest developments we face as we live with his diagnosis. Hunter has lived with cancer a large part of his life.”

The Ludington Optimist Club’s Childhood Cancer Campaign (CCC) has been helping Hunter and his family since he was diagnosed in 2014. The CCC helps families like the Bowman’s as they navigate through a cancer diagnosis of a child. It is one of the most devastating pieces of news a parent and siblings can receive, and it happens 479 times every day across the world. Every single day.

The CCC, formed locally in 2004, is one of many Optimist Club programs designed to help area youth, but according to Tom and Patricia Ezdebski, co-chairs of the program, it’s the one that captured their interest the most. The Ludington Optimist Club developed the CCC to help with individual needs a family might have.

“Every family is different and their needs are different,” said Tom Ezdebski. “We structured the CCC to make it very easy for families to get help. There is no paperwork or complicated forms; they deal enough with that through medical care and insurance companies. We simply meet with them and ask them what they need. Based on what they tell us, we work to fulfill that. Sometimes they’re too overwhelmed at first to know what they are going to need, so we ask them what we can do for that day or that week. We work with them from there and through the entire episode.”

 “Their needs change over the course of their child’s treatment,” Patricia said. “We find that the immediate needs are usually groceries and meals and help with transportation costs to medical appointments. Over time, their needs expand to things the child might need during long hospital stays, such as laptops and ipads to keep up with studies, stuffed animals, quilts or special pillows for comfort, and help with sibling care, utilities, mortgage payments and car maintenance. In Hunter’s case, because of the specialized medical insurance he has to carry in order to be treated at MD Anderson, it’s the health insurance costs. All of these are things the CCC can help provide.”

 Since its inception, the Childhood Cancer Campaign has provided approximately $125,000 to 18 area families.

 A similar program, organized for adults with a cancer diagnosis, was begun in 2017 by the Spectrum Health Foundation Ludington Hospital. The Cancer Patient Assistance Program is now an endowed fund specifically for helping those with cancer pay for necessary items such as medical bills, mortgage payments, utilities, transportation costs, groceries, etc. It was a need identified by staff at the Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital Cancer Center and one that the hospital foundation board, along with foundation and community services director, Kaley Petersen, creatively brought awareness to through organizing a world-record breaking event in Ludington for the most people—over 1300—simultaneously making sand angels. In just two years, the Cancer Patient Assistance Fund has provided nearly $125,500 to 175 people.

According to Petersen, “The Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital cancer center averages 800 patient encounters a month. The Cancer Assistance Fund alleviates financial strain by providing direct financial assistance, allowing patients to focus on what matters most—their health and healing.”

 Two local patients who have received assistance through the fund helped bring awareness to the availability of it through a video that details their stories. In the video, Heidi Sterley recounts, “Your life doesn’t stop just because you have cancer, just because you are sick. Everything still goes on. There are gas expenses, plus your house expenses, food—and you have to eat. You have family. You have to support everybody. You don’t think that stress does a lot to your body, but it does.”

Tracy Cooper, wife of Joe Cooper, Riverton Township Fire Department chief and fund recipient said, “If you have someone looking out for you, and you know the funds are there….that is part of your treatment.” Both patients talk openly about how much the Cancer Assistance Fund helped them through a difficult time.

The hospital fund and the Optimist CCC program receive funds through fundraisers organized by the groups themselves or other individuals or organizations. One particular fundraiser that helps both groups is the Rod Beckman Cancer Charity Golf Classic, an event spearheaded by Wayne Mortensen and Mike Larson, avid local golfers who had a close friendship with Rod Beckman, along with his wife, Traci.

It is the third year for the Rod Beckman Charity Golf Classic, which will be held September 14 at Lincoln Hills Golf Club. Rod Beckman was affectionately called the “voice of the Orioles” because he announced the Ludington High School football and basketball games and carried the play-by-play on local radio stations for many years. Rod’s was a distinctive voice, and he was a distinctive area athlete, well known for his prowess on the golf course.

“Rod and I were pleased to be able to join this team to help people battling cancer,” said Traci. “We knew firsthand the difficulties people face, and we both wanted to offer help and hope. As golfers, we agreed a tournament would be a great way to give the area golfing community an opportunity to play with a purpose. They, as well as the rest of the community—those who sponsor this event—have certainly done just that.”

In 2017, the first year of the Cancer Charity Golf Tournament, Rod played in it. The second year, Traci, his extended family, friends, and community played in his honor. This year, they again will play in his honor and for all of those locally who battle cancer. A portion of this year’s proceeds will directly benefit Hunter Bowman.

“The golf outing is one of the ways I am honoring Rod,” said Traci. “We have a small committee with a goal to help lighten the worries of cancer patients and their families. With the response we have been receiving, it’s obvious we live in a giving and generous community that feels the same.

“Rod would be happy to know that kids like Hunter are being helped, and that adults too have a source of assistance through the hospital fund.”

Anyone wanting to be a sponsor to help local families can call Mike Larsen at 843-9610.

Betten Baker Ford

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