Hear Zach's story,
as featured on KS95 For Kids.
Finding peace through music
Zach Sobiech, of Lakeland, Minn., doesn't go far without his guitar in tow. He used to play basketball & football, but these days, playing guitar, a hobby he picked up when he was 11 years old, has become an escape and a relaxing way to pass the long hours spent in and out of the hospital, during his treatment for cancer.
Zach was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on November 23, 2009, at age 14. Osteosarcoma is a cancer of the bone, with just 400 cases diagnosed in children under age 20 per year in the U.S.
When a persistent pain in his hip just wouldn't subside, doctors discovered that Zach had a large tumor in his left hip, which eventually metastasized to his right lung. Since his diagnosis, Zach has endured a hip replacement, hours of physical therapy, four thoracotomies, several minor surgeries and biopsies, months and months of chemo, countless days in the hospital and even more days of feeling sick.
Zach's family joined the club they never wanted to be part of, with countless other families who live life scan-to-scan - the necessary check-ups which determine if the cancer has returned. The cycle is the same - the weeks of dread leading up to the appointment, and the joy or heartache that quickly follows.
Zach goes to the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital for treatment, where he's able to benefit from the research that's happening at the university. Unfortunately, research for osteosarcoma lags behind other types of cancers such as leukemia in the development of treatments and more targeted therapies. Because osteosarcoma is so rare, more private funding, like funding from Children's Cancer Research Fund, is needed to push research forward - for Zach, and young people diagnosed after him.
Zach is an incredibly generous person. Last fall, he helped organize a talent show fundraiser at Stillwater High School that benefited Lance, a 20-year-old fellow osteosarcoma patient he met during one of his many hospital stays. Earlier in the year, when the cancer was found in his lung for a second time, Zach knew that his little sister, Grace, would be sad and upset by the news. To cheer her up, he bought her a pair of custom made pair of Converse tennis shoes.
In March, 2012, using funds donated to the family at a benefit in Zach's honor last November, the family took a trip of a lifetime to Europe. They visited Rome, Paris and Lourdes and created so many wonderful memories.
Soon after they returned home, Zach began complaining of a sore hip. It finally became too severe to ignore and Zach went in for testing. On May 31, 2012 the family's worst fears were realized. The PET scan revealed that the cancer has spread to Zach's pelvis and the soft tissue surrounding it as well as to his lungs. Surgery to remove the tumor from the pelvis is not an option. Zach's mom Laura likens cancer to a greedy bully who doesn't know when to quit. But Zach always bounces back with a smile, lifting the spirits of everyone around him.
In June, Zach began a three-week regimen of radiation to help stabilize the tumor and reduce his pain. The family's goal is to keep the pain from the tumor in the pelvis under control and stabilize the tumors in his lungs. The longer they can keep the cancer from taking over Zach's lungs (with more thoracotomies and chemotherapy) the longer life he will have. The family has been told he could have months to perhaps a year to live; they hope for more. He will use crutches for the rest of his life because of the lack of stability in his pelvis - the tumor is dead, but the bone is also gone.
Through all the highs and lows, Zach makes the best of it. He made a comment recently that when he was bald it was obvious that he was going through cancer treatment, which meant that people rarely approached him to ask questions. Now that Zach has been using crutches and his hair has returned, he gets many questions - to which he often makes up stories, like saying he was injured in a car accident, to save people the burden of hearing his true "cancer" story.
He recently started giving guitar lessons and has been able to drive again - giving Zach some coveted teenage freedom. He still smiles as brightly as he did before cancer, and to his family - it just means more now.