David facing Goliath: Mantachie high school student battles, beats cancer

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Remember the tale of David and Goliath? Sam Farris’ story is pretty similar.

The Mantachie High School junior is kind of unassuming: A full head shorter than most of his classmates, polite and not exactly reserved, but sort of quiet. Farris isn’t the really the kind of guy to stand out in a crowd.

Those who know him, however, know he’s accomplished something amazing: At only 10 years old, Sam Farris beat the tar out of cancer.

“I never really question, ‘why me?’ Farris said of his abdominal tumor. When doctors discovered the thing, it was huge — 13.5 centimeters — and wrapped around his spinal cord. The tumor was crushing his lung, making it hard for him to breathe, and pushing his heart out of place. As young as Farris was, doctors weren’t necessarily optimistic of his chances. Cancer that far along could easily kill an adult; Farris was still in elementary school.

Looking back, Farris said the discovery of the tumor seems a bit unreal. He doesn’t remember being frightened, at least not right away.

“At the time, it was more of a surreal feeling than anything frightening,” Farris said. “I kind of knew what it was and what was going on … but I was actually the calmest of all of us. I didn’t know what to expect. I was kind of hanging the balance of time for a while there.”

When doctors told Farris and his family — mother Teresa, father Dennis and brother Dennis Jr., — that he would need years of treatment, that’s when realization finally began to sink in: Things were going to be different. Very different.

“That’s when it hit me: I wouldn’t live a normal life, at least for a little while,” Farris said.

For the next 15 months, Farris and his family lived at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, where Farris underwent countless treatments — several surgeries, months of chemotherapy, numerous doses of radiation and, finally, physical and respiratory therapy. At one point, doctors believed he might even have to have a bone marrow transplant. Farris said he narrowly missed that one.

During this time, Farris received a lot of support from the people back in Mantachie. People would frequently send letters of support or prayer, and when he would visit home, he’d spot his friends wearing bracelets in his honor. The Make-A-Wish Foundation even granted his wish — Farris has his own baseball field in the backyard of his family home.

“Knowing people down here were thinking about me really gave a boost to my morale,” he said. “It’s almost like it gave me a reason to keep fighting.”

It took four years to rid Farris’ body of cancer. In August 2011, doctors felt confident enough to declare Farris’ cancer in remission. Subsequent checkups have found no traces of its return. Farris is confident that it won’t.

That’s not to say cancer hasn’t left its mark on Farris’ body: The tumor stunted his growth plate, accounting for his small stature (although he has always been kind of small, he admitted with a grin) and he has a large surgery scar across his abdomen. In a way, Farris wears these marks proudly.

“There was a point to it all, a purpose,” Farris said. “Physically, it has made me weaker; but emotionally …”

He trailed off into thought for a moment, then continued.

“Well, ‘stronger’ isn’t the right word,” he said. “It’s just, you can’t waste your time worrying about when your time’s going to be up. Just don’t worry about it. Let things go.”

With a faint smile, Farris added, “In life, everybody is tested with something. Mine just happened to be cancer. God gives his hardest burdens and toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.”

Come to think of it, David wasn’t scared, either.

adam.armour@journalinc.com