Unprotected People Reports: Hepatitis B
We Called Him 'A-Man'
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|The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) publishes articles about people who
have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases and periodically
devotes an IAC EXPRESS issue to such articles. This is the 70th in our
|After 20-year-old Adrian Elkins' death from liver cancer in August 2003, his
siblings established the Answer to Cancer Foundation. One of the
foundation's goals is to educate the public about HBV screening and risk
factors and about preventive measures for primary liver cancer.
|As the foundation's website makes clear, Adrian and his family were
blindsided by his disease: "Had [Adrian] known during his childhood that his
ethnicity and underlying medical condition [HBV infection] increased his
chance of developing liver cancer . . . he would have had regular liver
screenings each year."
|"We Called Him 'A-Man,'" which follows, is written by Adrian's sister Tara
Elkins and appears on the Answer To Cancer Foundation's website. IAC is
grateful to Ms. Elkins and the foundation for permission to reprint the
article, on which the foundation holds the copyright.
|By Tara Elkins
|Our new arrival
When I was seven years old, my parents told me that they wanted to adopt
another child to bring our family of five up to six. I didn't think much of
it until we got the "official" call on Mother's Day 1983--an infant boy in
India needed a family and he would soon come to ours. Suddenly I would no
longer be the baby. My place in our family was threatened, and I wasn't so
sure what to think about it.
We piled into our minivan and headed to the airport to greet our new
arrival. As soon as Adrian came off the airplane, his big brown eyes peeking
out from the wicker basket in which he was transported, I realized that this
was a little girl's dream come true. I had a real live baby doll to hold and
cuddle, to pamper and love. And so, it came to be, that I was a big sister.
Not many years later, my brother Miguel came to our family from Guatemala.
"The boys" became our family's focus, but Adrian, still the baby of the
family, remained everyone's (even Miguel's) pride and joy. From a young age,
Adrian had a certain way about him. He exuded a calmness that, accompanied
by an addictive smile, made you instantly fall in love with him, want to be
his friend, and thoroughly enjoy his company. My siblings and I (including
my older brother Chris, my younger brother Miguel, and my older sister
Shannon) treated him as if he were our child--probably spoiling him even a
bit too much.
It's probably just appendicitis or something
We watched him graduate from elementary school, cheered him on at track
meets in middle and high school, and hugged him tightly when he walked the
stage at his high school graduation. With apprehension and excitement, we
sent him off to college, only occasionally lecturing him about his grades or
his "open dorm room policy," as only siblings can do. He, WE, made it
through our first year and eagerly anticipated the next. Then his world, and
ours, came crumbling down.
Adrian woke up on the first morning of his second year of college with a
sharp pain in his side. He was short of breath. "Maybe I just need to lie
down," he thought, and took a short breather on his dorm room bed. But it
didn't subside. He asked a friend of his to drive him to the emergency room
just in case. My mom called me that day to tell me that Adrian, "A-Man" as
we called him, was sick. "Maybe it's a gall bladder attack or appendicitis?"
I thought. His overnight hospital visit turned into a several-day stay. They
wanted to take some tests to rule a few things out. It's probably nothing
serious, though [I thought].
I drove from my home in Seattle to see him when he came home from the
hospital a few days later. I joked with him that he was a hypochondriac, and
I asked him if I could have his stereo system if anything happened. We
laughed that day. It was nothing serious--couldn't be. It's Adrian after
all. He's led a gifted life.
But this doesn't happen to 19-year-olds!
Just a few short days later, Adrian was diagnosed with hepatocellular
carcinoma, primary liver cancer. My family knew nothing about this liver
cancer--why should we? It just doesn't happen to 19-year-old kids. But it
did. Adrian had a tumor the size of a football on his liver, and we needed
to do something about it. This was not going to take our baby away from us.
We dove head first into researching treatment, doctors, options, trials . .
. everything we could to lead us to our next steps. My sister led the
brigade, logging countless hours on the telephone and email. I scanned the
Internet every day looking for articles and links and hoping that maybe I
had missed something the day before. My brothers provided comic relief. And
we all called Adrian at least once a day, usually twice. "How are you
today?" we would ask. And he would always say, "Fine," even when he was not.
We know today that liver cancer is very difficult to treat because it is
often detected at a late stage. Adrian knew that he was up for the battle of
his life--and he knew what he was up against. He lived his last ten months
to the fullest and did everything he could to fight the cancer. He traveled
to Seattle on two occasions to stay with me, he visited my sister Shannon in
New York for several weeks, and he went with my Dad and brother Chris to the
Indy 500. He traveled to Houston on two occasions for treatment at MD
Anderson Cancer Center. The trip was hard on him both mentally and
physically, but he knew it was something he needed to do. He remained the
Adrian that we knew--sometimes being the rock that we needed to get through
this. I once asked him if he was scared. "Why should I be?" he asked me.
"What happens, happens."
Answer to Cancer Race
Of it all, his most unbelievable accomplishment was founding the Answer to
Cancer Race. Adrian was not a "watch from behind the scenes" type of person.
Case in point: Once, in high school, he was to be awarded the Cross Country
Runner of the Year award. The whole Elkins family piled into the high school
gymnasium during a pep rally (in the middle of a weekday, [no less]) to see
him receive his award--a surprise to him. When they announced his name, he
didn't come to the podium. Turns out that he was too busy organizing the
school's canned food drive. He didn't have time for a pep rally. He had
other things to do. That was Adrian.
So when he got sick, Adrian decided he wanted to do something to raise money
for liver cancer research and education. He said, "I don't want other people
to go through what I have." He didn't feel well, but at least if he was
sitting at home, he could get his laptop out and start putting together
something meaningful. In June, he laid the groundwork for the Answer to
Cancer Race (as a runner, it was the best way he could imagine to raise
funds). When his body wouldn't allow him to get up and do the many things
that needed to be done in preparation for the race, our family stepped in to
keep the ball rolling. In six weeks' time, the first annual Answer to Cancer
Race was held, on a balmy Sunday in August. More than 240 runners and
walkers participated, and we raised nearly $24,000. Adrian fired the
I believe it was Adrian's will to see that race take place. We were all
there that day--our family, friends, and his teammates and classmates. He
got to see his goal become a reality and see everyone he loved. Many people
don't experience that in their lifetime. Only eight days later he passed
|12/9/04 • REPORT #70
|Disclaimer: The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) publishes
Unprotected People Reports for the purpose of making them available
for our readers' review. We have not verified the content of this