Meet southern Colorado’s 4-year-old cancer-fighting cowboy

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WETMORE, Colo. — It’s not the size of the cowboy in the fight that matters, but rather the size of the fight in the cowboy, and one tiny cowboy in Wetmore has more fight in his tiny boots than most.

From sun up until sundown, 4-year-old Clayton Freeman is on the move.

“He’s wild,” laughed his mother, Lindsey Freeman. “He’s our wild child. He has no fear, nothing stops him, but he’s still sensitive too.”

Clayton loves to work on the family farm and take care of his animals.

“I guess he just doesn’t know any different,” said Brandon Freeman, Clayton’s dad. “We’ve really lived out here since he was born and I don’t think he knows any better, so he just likes being around the cows, he likes being out in the country.”

Clayton came into the world on December 14, 2015. Everything was great until his first birthday.

“We noticed a swollen lymph node,” said Lindsey.

Doctors assured her and Brandon everything would be fine, but the swelling wouldn’t go away.

“Nothing was changing and he wasn’t getting better,” she said.

His parents begged doctors to do a biopsy, and finally, they agreed.

“The next day we slept in, and that morning we got a phone call, and when the phone rang, your heart just sank,” said Lindsey.

The news was devastating.

“It was ‘you guys need to pack a bag and get to Children’s,'” she said. “The car ride was pretty quiet. Just for me, my wheels were turning. What does this mean? What is it going to do? So it sucked.”

From there, things only got worse.

“They said when they biopsied it they did find cancer cells, but we didn’t know the extent of anything until we got there that night,” she said. “So by the time we got all the way up there from out here it was probably 7:00 or 8:00 that night and it was just around the clock, doctors all night long, telling us what to expect, what they’re going to do. ‘Oh we don’t expect it to be here, we don’t expect it to be there,’ and every time it was.”

Clayton was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL, the most common childhood cancer.

“What happens is his bone marrow starts producing cells that are called blasts,” said Rachel Kovacs, Nurse Care Coordinator at Children’s Hospital Colorado Colorado Springs. “Those are the cancer cells and then those get sent out into the bloodstream and go throughout the blood and the body and kind of take over the normal production of blood cells.”

Clayton’s little body was attacking itself, and the only way to stop it was to fight back.

“We do a treatment for about three years for boys,” said Kovacs.

The initial response is swift and strong.

“The first 30 days he had steroids every day and it was miserable,” said Lindsey. “He was upset, he didn’t know why he was upset, and then we started constant different chemos.”

“For the first six to eight months it’s usually pretty intense,” said Kovacs. “They’re usually in clinic at least one to two times a week, if not daily, getting chemotherapy in clinic, getting checked for labs, other tests.”

“It just changed his mood, his temper. I mean the slightest thing would just–and you couldn’t explain to him that you’re trying to help,” said Lindsey.

To Clayton, cancer isn’t a disease–it’s just something getting in the way of his work.

“So there’s been more than one time when I’ve been trying to give his medicine or draw his labs or something and he’s like ‘come on, come on, hurry up now. I’ve gotta get back to work, gotta get back to work,'” said Kovacs.

“I don’t think he’s ever realized he’s sick,” said Lindsey. “He doesn’t realize it’s any different than any other kid. He doesn’t understand that there are different lives out there that haven’t been through what he’s been through.”

Throughout his journey, Clayton’s positive attitude has been an inspiration to others, including his parents.

“Every day you look at him and it’s don’t sweat the small stuff, keep pushing on, don’t let it phase you,” said Lindsey. “He just went through and it’s really pretty cool to see as he gets older and the more things that he gets into it’s like ‘wow, we’re here.'”

About 3,000 kids are diagnosed with ALL each year in the United States.

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