The 12-year-old North Hall Middle School student was diagnosed last fall with a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A sociable, happy kid and avid sports fan, Drake has had to adjust to life as a cancer patient.
His parents, Jay and Becky Hollander, also had to make drastic changes, arranging their schedules around his treatments. He needs 15 "cycles" of chemotherapy, spaced three weeks apart. But he has to go down to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston every week for blood tests.
"The price of gas now is just killing us. Plus, we have to pay parking fees," said Becky Hollander.
The family does have health insurance. But Jay Hollander is self-employed in the construction business, so he could only buy a policy that has high premiums. It pays for about 80 percent of Drake’s medical care, but cancer treatment is so expensive that the family still has to pay a substantial share.
"His (total) hospital bill last October was $78,000," Becky said. "Every time he gets a PET scan or a CT scan, that’s several thousand dollars."
She even tried to enroll Drake in a Medicaid program for medically needy children, but because the Hollanders own their home, they had too many assets to qualify.
The good news is that Drake has completed six of his treatments, and he’s no longer receiving chemo via a painful spinal tap. His most recent scans show the cancer is diminishing.
But there’s a long road ahead. "It will probably be December before he’s finished with the treatment," said Becky.
To help the family travel down that road, friends and supporters will be hitting the pavement themselves on May 17. A 5K run to benefit the Hollanders is set for 9 a.m. at North Hall High School.
"You don’t have to run. You can walk, or even push a stroller," said Rebekah Beccue, one of the organizers.
She’s hoping to raise about $6,000 through registration fees and corporate sponsorships. The entry fee is $15, and participants are asked to register by Friday so that race T-shirts can be ordered.
Beccue said some students at North Hall middle and high schools are also seeking pledges to raise additional funds.
"The kids wanted to know what they could do to help," she said.
The Hollanders are well known in the North Hall community, since their older children Devin and Danielle were active in sports throughout middle and high school.
"I’m hoping for a really good turnout from the teenagers," Beccue said.
Check-in for the 5K is at 8 a.m. at North Hall High. Beccue said the race route will form a loop encompassing the middle and high schools as well as Mount Vernon Elementary.
Becky Hollander said Drake is hoping to attend the 5K as a spectator, though he can’t be in crowds because the chemotherapy has made him susceptible to infection.
"He’s a very social person, and we’ve basically been hermits for the last few months," she said.
Because of his weakened immune system, Drake has not been able to attend school since last fall. He’s been keeping up with his studies through a homebound teacher, but some days he feels too ill to concentrate.
"He does real good for the first seven days after he gets chemo," Becky said. "Then for about three days he feels weak and sick, his muscles ache all over, and he has no energy at all."
She hopes he’ll be able to attend school again in August, but since he’ll still be undergoing chemo, she doesn’t know if that will be feasible.
The challenge now is to help Drake keep his spirits up as he continues his long struggle toward wellness. He misses one of his favorite activities, hunting, so they’ve tried to come up with more passive pursuits to keep him occupied.
"He’s taking guitar lessons," Becky said. "And he can go fishing, but now we have to be careful because the chemo makes him very sensitive to the sun."
Most of all, Drake just wants to be a kid again, with a life that revolves around football games instead of cancer treatments.
"He doesn’t even want to discuss the fact that he has cancer," she said. "It’s not denial. He just doesn’t like for the focus to be on him."