by Alia Tarraf
Brett Newton and his family (Brett is second from the left)
In the fall of 1995, when most 11-year old New Jersey natives were riding bikes with their friends, Brett Newton was giving himself his own shots to ward off the side effects from his T-cell Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia treatment. It happened fast. Brett was your average kid. Strong and determined, he excelled in dance, swimming and gymnastics, a rising star in his family. Then one day it was gone, triggered by cancer found in his blood, and everything changed. At one point, Brett’s muscles had atrophied from being bed ridden for so long that he could hardly walk.
How does a child who has to take morphine for the pain endured from basic tasks such as eating and drinking, find the strength to keep going? Unsure of how long he had to live, Brett decided he wasn’t going to let cancer beat him. At 11, he was focused. Brett forged ahead and fought. After over three years of treatment, and with the help of his parents and sister, Brett survived. He has no evidence of disease in his body. Now 28, and an actor and artist living in Los Angeles, Brett splits his time between his creative endeavors and giving back through organizations like Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
WHAT KIND OF CANCER DID YOU FIGHT?
T-cell A.L.L. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. It was blood cancer so it affected my whole body.
WHEN WERE YOU DIAGNOSED?
November 22, 1995. I was 11 years old.
HOW LONG HAS THERE BEEN NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE IN YOUR BODY?
IS THERE A HISTORY OF CANCER IN YOUR FAMILY?
I had an uncle with leukemia and another uncle with a brain tumor.
DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CANCER CAME FROM?
They suspect environmental, but in reality, no.
WHAT TYPE OF TREATMENT DID YOU GO THROUGH?
Chemo, Intrathecal (treatment in the spinal cord) and Cranial Irradiation.
My treatment started November 22, 1995 and ended January 4, 1999.
DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY SIDE EFFECTS FROM TREATMENT?
Nausea and plenty of it. My body’s immune system was low all the time and there was actually a period in my treatment when I became a temporary diabetic. I gave myself my own shots, I thought that was cool.
WHAT IS YOUR MEDICAL MAINTENANCE SCHEDULE NOW?
Annually I have to do a CBC, Chemistry Profile, Urine Analysis, Thyroid Function, Baseline Lipid Profile, Baseline FFH, LH, Testosterone and an Ophthalmologic exam. Every 2 years, I have an EKG/Echocardiogram.
HOW IMPORTANT DID YOU FIND DIET AND EXERCISE IN GETTING THROUGH TREATMENT AND SURGERY?
Very important. I never wanted to leave the bed but my parents kept me moving, dragging me out of bed, so I would have some muscle use. They are the reason I am back on my feet today. My mother also made sure my diet was the most healthy it could possibly be. She also did a huge regiment of holistic medications that saved my heart, bones and body, among other things.
HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH THE DAY-TO-DAY OF YOUR CANCER FIGHT?
My father and I probably built every single WWII model airplane, tank and boat there was. I built them, he painted them. It was all about having a great attitude all around me. I was surrounded by great people and in my mind I always knew I was going to live.
HOW DID YOU FIGHT CANCER EMOTIONALLY?
I just looked forward and had great parents.
WHAT DOES BEING A SURVIVOR FEEL LIKE?
It feels normal. It’s what I went through in life to make me who I am today, so to me it’s normal.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER CANCER FIGHTERS?
Keep a positive attitude and great people in your life and trust your instincts.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FRIENDS, FAMILY AND CO-WORKERS OF CANCER FIGHTERS?
Keep a positive attitude and motivate your friend or family members. They are still the same person, so treat them that way.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE FUTURE? WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS?
I feel like it’s coming pretty fast. My hopes and dreams are to be a consistently working actor and producer and just make that my living. I want to be able to travel at a moment’s notice and spend more time with my family and the people I love. I also want to get married to an amazing woman and have kids one day.
FOR YOU IN ONE WORD WHAT IS CANCER?