In many ways, 16-year-old Erin Beitz is like any other teenager.
The Brewerton native is athletic, a softball and volleyball player at Paul V. Moore High School in Central Square. She has a boyfriend and many friends.
“She makes friends very easily,” said John Beitz, Erin’s father. “She’s very outgoing.”
Erin is also a good student, maintaining a 99.25 average as a sophomore at P.V. Moore.
But there’s something about Erin that makes her very different from her peers, tragically different.
Last month, Erin was diagnosed with lymphoma.
Erin’s father said the illness started simply enough around Dec. 16.
“She’d been nauseous and throwing up,” Beitz said. “But there was something like that going around, so we just thought she had a stomach bug.”
Erin missed a couple of days of school right before Christmas break, but felt well enough to return for the last day of classes before vacation. She then took a turn for the worse over break, prompting her parents to call the family doctor.
“She couldn’t keep anything down,” Beitz said. “We took her in and they put her on IV fluids to keep her hydrated, and they did a blood test, but nothing turned up, which is also unusual for lymphoma.”
Still, Erin didn’t get any better. Her doctor gave a diagnosis of mononucleosis, but that diagnosis was rejected two days later. She was given anti-nausea medications and her doctor told her parents to make sure she kept drinking plenty of fluids.
But the symptoms got worse. By the beginning of January, Erin had lost 15 pounds and was experiencing double vision and dizziness. Suspecting an inner ear problem, her doctor gave her a CAT scan, which was clean. By then, Erin was also having nystagmus, or uncontrolled eye movements. She was sent to an opthamologist, who changed her medications and sent the family on their way.
But the worst was yet to come.
“The next day, she woke up and she couldn’t open her right eye all the way,” Beitz said. “Her eyelid wouldn’t go all the way up. That was scary. We knew that wasn’t a good sign.”
On Jan. 6, Erin had an MRI, which revealed a tumor on the base of her skull. She was admitted to SUNY Upstate that day.
When her local doctors were stumped as to how to proceed given her unusual symptoms and the location of the tumor, Erin’s parents took her to The Children’s Hospital in Boston.
“They looked at her scans and they did some of their own scans,” Beitz said. “They started discussing options with us.”
Because of the location of the tumor, a less-invasive needle biopsy, in which cells are extracted from a growth with a needle, was not possible. Erin had to have a full craniotomy, cutting open her skull to access the tumor.
Two weeks later, doctors gave the family a diagnosis: lymphoma.
“They weren’t expecting that,” Beitz said. “Nothing added up — her symptoms, the blood tests. It was very strange.”
Unfortunately, Erin’s cancer isn’t like other cancers.
“It’s lymphoma, which means it’s a cancer of the blood,” Beitz said. “So it’s in her blood cells. It’s not like, say, breast cancer, where it’s in the breast cells, and if you remove that tumor, you’re more likely to have removed all the cancer. It’s throughout her body.”
There’s also the location of the malignant tumor: right at the base of Erin’s skull.
“It’s impacting the nerves in her brain, which is how she even developed any symptoms,” Beitz said. “There’s no possibility of surgical removal.”
Fortunately, the doctors have told the Beitz family that Erin’s prognosis is good. She will have to undergo rigorous chemotherapy for the next six to eight months, spending four to five days in the hospital for each treatment, then getting 10 to 12 days of rest between treatments.
In order to help the family with their expenses and to show Erin their support, several friends and relatives have come together to plan fundraisers. Numerous events have been planned, starting with a Pampered Chef event from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday March 5 at the Cicero American Legion. Other events include a dodgeball tournament, a bake sale and a traditional fundraiser. For a full list of events, see the sidebar.
Beitz said he and his family have been overwhelmed by the community’s support.
“Everybody has been so incredible,” he said. “We’re hearing from people we don’t even know — friends of friends, other cancer patients, parents of cancer patients, so many people who have gone through this have offered us their support. It’s amazing.”
The family even got a call from a local church.
“It’s not our church,” Beitz said. “But there are a bunch of kids there that know Erin from school, and they wanted to have a prayer vigil for her We’re getting calls like that all the time. We’re just so grateful.”
Beitz said that support, combined with Erin’s very strong personality, will help pull her through this crisis.
“She’s got quite a tough road ahead, and she knows it,” Beitz said. “But I know she can get through it.”
Fundraisers for Erin Beitz
The following events have been planned to raise money for Erin Beitz, 16, of Brewerton, who is battling lymphoma.
Pampered Chef fundraiser
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday March 5
Where: Cicero American Legion, 5575 Legionnaire Drive, Cicero (behind the post office)
When: 1 to 9 p.m. Saturday March 7
Where: Heidi Hazen’s Indoor Sports Facility, 65 Corporate Park Drive, Central Square
When: Starts at 6:30 a.m. Friday March 20
Where: 300 South State St., One Park Place, Syracuse
When: 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday May 3
Where: Cicero American Legion, 5575 Legionnaire Drive, Cicero
For more information, contact Craig Waterman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.