Arkansas state Rep. Tosh celebrated as St. Jude's first 60-year cancer survivor
Republican Arkansas state Representative Dwight Tosh recalled his life growing up in Jonesboro in the 1960s.
"Well, the year was 1962 and I was 13 years of age," Tosh said. "I attended Valley View School where I was the starter on my basketball team, catcher on my baseball team. I had a great family life, I was healthy and I thought that it would last forever."
Unfortunately, Tosh said that suddenly, he became critically ill. His parents admitted Tosh to the hospital in Jonesboro where he laid for weeks. He said the doctors had no idea what was happening to him, but then things took a turn for the worst.
Tosh said he noticed a "huge knot" growing on his neck. A biopsy of the knot confirmed that the 13 year old Tosh had developed an aggressive form of cancer called non-hodgkin's lymphoma.
"So, the doctor started treatment here in Jonesboro for the cancer and of course, I guess the body was already so weak and the treatment was unsuccessful," Tosh said.
The Mayo Clinic defines non-hodgkin's lymphoma as a type of cancer that grows in the lymph nodes which is apart of the body's immune system. Other symptoms besides swollen lymph nodes include abdominal pain or swelling, fever, and unexplained weight loss.
Tosh said that, at that time, the survival rate for non-hodgkin's lymphoma was around 10%, so it essentially was a death sentence. He said the doctors told his parents that there was nothing more they could do for him.
He said his parents were preparing for the worst possible outcome, but Tosh said those preparations only lasted for about 24 hours.
"The very next day," Tosh said, "somehow from someone from somewhere, I don't know, but word came about a new research hospital."
The "new research hospital" was just about an hour away in Memphis, Tennessee. It was St. Jude, founded by actor and comedian Danny Thomas. Tosh said that an ambulance rushed him from Jonesboro to St. Jude for treatment. The hospital was so new that he was admitted as their 17th patient.
Tosh said that every patient was given a number based of the order they were admitted. But, he felt that the number meant so much more.
"[The patient number] connects you to all the medical staff at St. Jude and their network of information from around the world," explained Tosh. "It connects you to and bond you to every past, present, and future patient, and their families at St. Jude."
Tosh also said that the patient number gave him a direct connection to Danny Thomas and his family. Tosh recalled the moment he met Thomas, who he said made him feel special. He said that Thomas stayed with him and was in no rush to leave his bedside.
"I remember when [Thomas] left how he made me feel," said Tosh. "That feeling I had that he left me with was that if I was the only child in the world that had been diagnosed with a catastrophic illness, he would have still built St. Jude just for me."
According to St. Jude, every year there have been 6,000 to 7,000 cases of the disease reported in the U.S. alone. Since Tosh was admitted to the hospital in 1962, St. Jude says the survival rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has increased to between 90-95%.
Tosh, who is now in his 70s, has lived a full life serving the state of Arkansas. He spent over 3 decades working in law enforcement for the Arkansas State Police and has served in the Arkansas House since 2014. Tosh is also a father of two and a grandfather of four.
On Friday, he received a commemorative pin from St. Jude, being the hospital's first patient to have survived 60 years. Tosh said his goal is to show other children and families going through a similar situation that a cancer diagnosis doesn't always mean "the end".
"A patient at St. Jude Hospital does not make you any less of an individual," said Tosh. "My mission has been to prove that those kids at St. Jude are not just a sick child, but they are truly warriors that have endeared more pain and agony than most people ever know in their lifetime. My goal in life is to prove that you can be a patient at St. Jude and you can go on and live a full and productive life."
Tosh said that he gets calls all of the time from parents who share a similar story that his parents had. He said the best advice he can give to them is to always have hope.
"Just keep your faith in God and St. Jude and stay the course," he said, "and hopefully someday each one of those children, they, too, will be able to stand and they will be able to say that during the most difficult time of their life that they, too, were victorious."
In 2007, St. Jude said Tosh became the hospital's first patient to enroll in a program called "St. Jude LIFE", which studies the health outcomes of other survivors to better understand the late effects of cancer and treatment.