At 10 years old, Ray McPadden III of Shelton was living out his childhood dream by following in the footsteps of his favorite baseball player, Derek Jeter. He was the healthy, active boy he was expected to be — spending his days playing baseball, basketball and football.
But everything changed with one diagnosis.
Seven months ago, Ray was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that attacks the immune system.
Approximately 1,200 people in the United States are diagnosed annually with Burkitt’s lymphoma, according to WebMD.com. This year, “Super Ray” McPadden was one of them.
Health issues arose
It all started with severe stomach pains, nausea and weight loss in January. At first, Ray’s family members thought the stomach pains were caused by anxiety — a reaction to the unexpected death of his father, Ray Jr., in February 2013.
“It was to the point where people in school were saying to me, ‘My God, he’s getting so skinny,’” said Nick Messina, Ray’s fourth grade teacher at Booth Hill Elementary School.
But Ray’s stomach pains turned out to be much more.
“[Hearing the diagnosis] I felt like I couldn’t breathe,” said Marybeth McPadden, Ray’s mother. “Having just gone through losing my husband and still not being fully recovered from that, to hearing this was just unthinkable.
“His sister, Christina, is having a tough time [coping],” she continued. “She’s remarkably strong. It has been hard on her, too, because I have to stay weeks in the hospital with him…She’s only 7 years old.”
Many know the extended McPadden family as the former owners of the Merritt Canteen in Bridgeport and current owners of Mr. Mac’s Canteens in Monroe and Milford.
Has a positive outlook
For young Ray, each day is an ongoing battle, and while cancer may have attacked his immune system, it has not taken away his positive outlook on life.
“I don’t like to complain about it. My blood type is B+ [B positive], so I try to do that,” Ray said.
‘He’s a big inspiration to all of us’
“You would never know that he was going through this and having surgery,” said Chris McPadden, young Ray’s uncle. “He’s a big inspiration to all of us. He is never negative; he’s always positive.”
Since being diagnosed with Burkitt’s, Ray has had his appendix and part of his intestine removed.
“Burkitt’s attacks the immune system and creates tumors that can attach themselves to other organs and affect how the body functions,” Marybeth said.
Long hospital stays
Now, instead of spending his days rounding third base on the baseball field, Ray spends four to seven days in the hospital getting another round of chemotherapy, followed by a couple of weeks at home to recuperate, his mother said.
During the holiday season, Ray will be undergoing a stem cell transplant with the goal of being cancer-free after his treatment. There will be a critical 100-day period where he will be in complete isolation, his mother said.
The support of many others
“The community has been unbelievable,” Marybeth said. “There have been fund-raisers, there’s a meal train that is set up so we have dinners brought to our house every Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday night, and that started back in July and it has been ongoing.
“People have sent us gift cards,” she said. “They have helped with my daughter, Christina. If I ever need anything, there would be an army there to make sure it happens.”
That community support continues this weekend with a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser on Sunday, Nov. 2 from noon-4 p.m. at the Huntington firehouse, 44 Church St. (on the Huntington Green), Shelton.
The “Ray of Hope” fund-raiser is being sponsored by Shelton Boy Scout Troop 101. All proceeds will go directly to the McPadden family.
Food, music and activities
The event will include Italian food, DJ music, and fun activities such as face-painting and hula hooping. “Come to eat for an hour but spend three hours with friends,” suggested Marc Connolly, an adult leader with the troop.
Connolly said the impetus for the event came from troop members, who approached adult leaders with the idea. “That was impressive,” he said of their desire to help a fellow young person.
Reservations for the spaghetti dinner are being taken for noon, 1, 2, and 3 p.m. To reserve a spot, go to http://tiny.cc/q880mx .