Alex Creighton walks into the little house on Walnut Street, steel rods in his back, a ring of steel around them.
You need steel when tumors eat your bones.
Doctors cut out part of other bones, in the back, a leg and more. Alex has more than 100 lesions and tumors, from a rare bone disease called osteoblastoma all over his body.
He used to be the fastest box-maker and best delivery driver anybody ever saw at Papa John’s. He wanted to be a manager. He had dreams.
Never miss a local story.
His body stole those dreams.
Alex doesn’t have cancer, at least – and only a guy so upbeat would call that a plus. Osteoblastoma is just as bad – maybe worse. He has so many tumors, the amount of radiation needed to treat them would kill an elephant, let alone a man.
“Full-body radiation would kill me,” Alex said.
Unless there is a “miracle pill” that can destroy tumors, and nobody knows of one, Alex says that he might die.
Somehow, he still smiles.
“Maybe what I am going through will help somebody,” said William Alexander “Alex” Creighton, 26. “I have seen the parents of kids at the cancer centers when I have gone for tests and treatments. I have waited with them and seen them and talked with them. I’ve seen the little kids.
“I have had a life, I have memories. Those kids, they never even got that.”
Beside Alex – underneath a painting he bought his momma for Mother’s Day, because when tumors are growing in your body you don’t wait for next year to tell somebody you love them – sits his mother, Linda.
“My son needs a miracle,” said Linda, who is disabled herself.
On Alex’s other side is Bill, his father, fresh off a long shift at the Charlotte Frito-Lay plant despite just getting out of the hospital himself for an enlarged heart condition that required surgery.
There is a pending court case in the house. Foreclosure, court records show. As lethal as any tumor in America.
One parent, 66 with a bad heart, working. One parent disabled. A son with tumors throughout his body. The foreclosure marches on.
“Someway, somehow, we can make it,” Bill said.
Alex first started feeling pain that would not go away a couple of years ago. He went to the doctor for tests, then it all started feeling like a movie. The doctor called and said, “Come in immediately and let’s talk.”
The tests showed Alex did not have aches and pains, but tumors. There has been surgeries.
“But there is just too much,” Alex said. “They can’t get 100 percent out,” the disease is “very aggressive.”
So it would seem that Alex Creighton should be upset. Instead, he has a garden, flowers and plants. He hugs his parents and takes care of his mother. He takes solace from his favorite band, The Grateful Dead.
Even with medical bills that soar despite being eligible for Medicaid. Despite a future that might last days, weeks, months. Nobody knows.
Still, Alex thanks God for what he has, he doesn’t complain about what he does not have. His Christian faith buoys him.
“Sure, mornings are horrible, and I have my ups and downs,” Alex said. “But that isn’t my life.”
Alex appreciates what he has had in his life, and what he has now. The family’s one vehicle, a truck, runs, he said, and “I can still drive.”
More testing is scheduled for this week, and Alex has been referred to the National Institutes of Health for more. No one knows if he will survive, but Alex holds out hope that doctors will learn from his case, and at least be able to help others.
In the little house on Walnut Street, Alex stands. He is not a big man, under 5 feet 6 inches tall. But he seems to tower. He seems huge.
Maybe he seems larger than he is because, beyond the tumors, the bones that have rebelled, beats a huge heart filled with faith and Grateful Dead tunes – inside a 26-year-old guy whose wish is that little kids who are sick like him will get the chance to make memories like he has.
Alex hopes those kids are cured, so that some of their memories are good ones.