An 8-inch scar wraps around Kane Wolf’s abdomen.
The 10-year-old lifted his jersey after a Wednesday basketball practice, pointed at it and said he was proud of the mark that symbolizes a time when his life was a coin toss – 50 percent of children with high-risk neuroblastoma survive.
There is a double meaning to what was left behind after a softball-sized tumor was removed, Kane said. The wound that will never fade away was the beginning of a miserable battle against cancer, but it was also what pushed him to unimaginable triumphs, enabling him to rub shoulders with his heroes like Saquon Barkley.
The 5-feet, 2-inch tall kid from Howard Borough was not shy about why he wanted his story told, aside from a flash of fame that could come with it.
“I want people to know you can beat cancer no matter what,” Kane said. “I want them to know I’ve beat cancer. It’s really hard, but you can get through it, too.”
He also acknowledged how many people lose their lives to cancer. Recently, it was a friend’s aunt who passed away. Before that, a baby he met in the hospital died.
Kane, sitting in the front row of the bleachers in Bald Eagle Area’s gymnasium, paused to think about them. He dropped his head forward and stared at the floor for a moment before gazing across the court.
“I’m not happy some other people couldn’t pull through it,” he said. “But they didn’t quit, either.”
An oncologist told Kane’s parents Shannon and Matt that she gave hugs and bad news.
They didn’t speak when the doctor said it was cancer that caused Kane to be sick for most of the summer in 2014. Kane had to be rushed into emergency surgery.
The tumor was pressing down on his adrenal gland, often causing excruciating pain and vomiting. It wouldn’t be the worst part of what Kane had to endure to be healthy again.
Kane hated the treatments, pills and medicines that would make him groggy and weak. His parents lamented holding him down as he fought against every IV. And Shannon, who is afraid of needles, was the best at giving him shots and regularly had to, to “boost his cells.”
“You think every step of the way is the worst it could possibly be, and then we got to that stem cell transplant and for 30 days he didn’t eat,” Shannon said. “That’s pretty bad. Instead he had a tube going down his nose for nutrition. That’s just torture.”
Kane was isolated to his rooms whether it was in the hospital, a hotel or their house on the rare occasions they could take a break from hospital stays.
“He wasn’t allowed to take a real shower or a real bath or go swimming or be in the sun,” Shannon said. “And he was a little angry. He tried going to school five to 10 times that year. He just wanted to be with his friends.”
Kane found comfort in the small things he could still do.
Every hospital visit— the ones when he had to stay for long periods— began with setting up the room with a TV, computer and PlayStation. He made friends with children who talked to him when they dueled in online Madden and got lost in building fictitious worlds in Minecraft, an escape from his reality.
“I never thought it was going to end,” he said.
About 15 third-grade kids in Howard Elementary School stopped what they were doing on Jan. 19, 2017. Kane’s mom had an announcement.
“I think I knew what she was going to say, but I couldn’t believe it,” Kane said. “I thought I’d have it a lot longer. When she said I was cancer-free, all of my friends were congratulating me. I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to cry’ and then I did a little bit, because I knew I finally pulled through it.”
Kane stood up from his chair in excitement and was swarmed by his classmates in a spontaneous group hug.
Shannon Wolf caught the moment in a picture.
“It was a huge weight lifted off his shoulders and our shoulders,” Shannon said. “I’m pretty sure that’s when he really turned it around. We had a huge party for him, like 200 people.”
Kane’s comeback had been foreshadowed for the previous 12 months, beginning with new-found sources of hope in early 2016 when it was revealed that almost all of the cancer had been wiped out.
His sister Ariel Hendrick also set in motion a new network of support for her little brother. She was a freshman at Penn State and told her parents they should apply to have Kane involved with Thon, the student-run philanthropy where she volunteered.
One month later, they were inside the Bryce Jordan Center and met with Club Snowboarding, the group that adopted the family to support Kane. When they aren’t fundraising for him, members like Shawn Sheenan and Kat Lippincott set up outings with the family.
What might have meant the most to Kane in February 2016 was a chance to be with two of his favorite football players, Barkley and Von Walker. He has since been known to hang out on Penn State’s sideline during some home games and texts with several players.
“It's nice to see (Penn State students and football players), because they can do other stuff,” Kane said. “They can do their homework or hang out with each other, but they like doing stuff with me. I think that’s special.”
Kane grinned at the thought of being at Thon again. It will be another escape from his reality — side effects like stomach pains and acid reflux will follow him through life and there are no guarantees he won’t relapse.
In two weeks, he will go back to Penn State Hershey for two days of tests and a phone call the next day. They’ll make the same two-hour trip every six months for the next eight years, hoping the cancer never returns.
His parents go through “scan-xiety,” the haunting feeling before every set of tests, but he feels unstoppable.
“I’ve beaten it before,” Kane said. “I’m not scared of it.”
Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli