Declan calls his disease a 'hip boo-boo.' His parents call it cancer.

Declan Homan smiles during a game of Duck, Duck, Goose on Sunday at the Penn State Thon’s Family Carnival.
Declan Homan smiles during a game of Duck, Duck, Goose on Sunday at the Penn State Thon’s Family Carnival. psheehan@centredaily.com

Declan Homan wanted to fly.

The 5-year-old spread his arms out, jumped and was caught in mid-air by Penn State student Rebecca Williamson. She spun him around and ran down a 60-foot hallway and back.

It wasn’t quite enough for Declan, a two-time cancer survivor who was enjoying himself at Penn State Thon’s Family Carnival, where Four Diamonds families and student volunteers play games. He looked up and asked for one more ride Sunday afternoon. Williamson couldn’t tell him no.

“Being around him gives me energy, and his happiness always radiates,” said Williamson, who volunteers through a student organization called Tri-State. “It’s so contagious. You’d never know what he’s gone through looking at him, and I think that’s what’s so profound about him. He’s always so happy even when times are tough.”

Homan, of Hanover, was diagnosed with synovial cell sarcoma in 2014.

The cancerous tumor spread in the soft tissue near his quad muscle and wrapped around a nerve, and doctors didn’t know what it was until a biopsy at the Mayo Clinic returned a diagnosis six weeks after the first surgery.

His future was filled with unanswered questions.

Would he survive? Would he lose his leg? At best, doctors told his parents Jacquie and Neil Homan, he would likely have a limp.

Declan has proved doctors wrong after after two bouts with cancer and four surgeries to his leg, which have left scars and a noticeable indent in his quad muscle where the tumor was removed.

He doesn’t stumble, hobble or walk unevenly. Declan’s short legs seamlessly blaze a trail that can be hard to follow, said his mother, a runner.

“The first surgery, he was in so much pain before they removed it,” Jacquie Homan said. “Surprisingly, the pain of the surgery was much less compared to the pain of the tumor. They had to remove a nerve, too, so he didn’t have that he didn’t have feeling left. He was running and jumping so much after the surgery that we had to remind him to slow down.”

Sometimes it seems as if Declan is trying to catch up to his best friend, his 7-year-old sister Noella.

Jacquie and Neil haven’t talked much with their children about the cancer that has returned once and could come back again. They didn’t want to scare them. The kids, especially Noella, inevitably learned more about Declan’s cancer, which he calls his “hip boo-boo,” at Thon 2017.

“Noella was reading everything, and she’s very smart,” Jacquie Homan said. “She put the pieces together that he has cancer, and we had never really said that before.”

Declan’s battle against cancer might not be over — he has to get a check-up every three months for several years before he is considered cancer-free — but no matter the doctor’s news he’ll probably have a bright perspective.

“He likes surgery because he’ll get ice cream,” Jacquie said, pausing and laughing for a moment.

“So my dad recently had to have surgery on his leg,” she continued. “Declan told him, ‘It’s OK, pappy. You get ice cream. It’s not that bad.’”

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli