Teen holding spearfishing event in panama city beach for cancer research
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Colten White’s medical history has always been complicated, he says.
At age 8, he was diagnosed with a common vitamin immune deficiency, and at age 10, he was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
Still, it came as a shock to the Alabama native and part-time resident of Panama City Beach when he was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, one of the most common and aggressive types of lymphoma. non-Hodgkinian.
Thus began White’s nearly six-month journey of intense chemotherapy, ending in November 2020 when he was announced as cancer-free. Now he wants to give back to those who helped him.
White will host a spearfishing tournament next month in Panama City Beach to give back to the hospital that treated him, Children’s of Alabama.
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The first “Dive for a Cure” combines White’s childhood love of spearfishing with his goal of helping find a cure for the aggressive cancer he’s been battling. It is scheduled for July 15 and 16 at the Diver’s Den in Panama City Beach, beginning with a kick-off dinner at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and ending with a weigh-in at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Having spent his summers in Panama City Beach and still wanting to compete in spearfishing tournaments himself, he said he was thrilled.
“It’s great to be able to bring this back to all the local divers who love spearfishing and want to compete and show off their skills,” White said. “I’m so grateful to be able to do this for such a great cause while doing what I love in the place I love.”
Get the diagnosis
It all started the summer before his sophomore year of high school in 2020. As the world all but shut down around him due to the COVID-19 pandemic, White and his family made the trek home of Panama City Beach to get away.
“For a lot of people it was a very difficult time, but for us it was quite fun because we had to live at the beach house and do things that we love and don’t normally do at this time. year because we’re in school,” White said.
Suddenly having the opportunity to hit the beach and go scuba diving, White said things were looking up during such an uncertain time. He grew up spending time at his grandparents’ home in Panama City Beach, as well as his family’s beach house, and he was thrilled to return to a place that meant so much to him.
Then he noticed a lump in his groin that would change everything.
“I went to the doctor about it. They said it didn’t look like anything, the labs showed nothing,” White said. “We planned a trip to the Florida Keys and we went there and came back and it was still there so we contacted the doctor. It was sort of replayed – it was like nothing, the labs didn’t showed nothing.”
The White family researched several opinions and heard the same thing again.
After meeting with his pediatrician, he had the mass removed and biopsied. His family was still questioned by the surgeon, saying they saw nothing to worry about.
“We decided to go ahead and do it to give ourselves peace of mind because we were more and more concerned about what it was, surely it would be better now,” White said. “And that’s when I was diagnosed with cancer on August 26, 2020.”
White remembers the moment he heard the terrible news, sitting with his mother and father when they heard the phone ring. His mother saw that it was coming from the doctor and quickly responded to it.
“I remember (my dad) asking my mom to put the phone on speaker, so we could all listen and when those words came out, ‘I had cancer’, I sort of became numb and I kind of blocked out everything else,” White said. “Everything I wanted to do in my life started rushing through my head. I didn’t know if I was going to have those things.”
“I just beat cancer”
The next morning, Colten and his family traveled to the Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham to meet with oncologist Dr. Ana Xavier and discuss treatment options.
White said Dr. Xavier played an important role in her support system.
“She was the biggest blessing I didn’t even know I would have. I remember…sitting in the waiting room and playing with my hands because I was nervous,” recalls White. “She met me in the waiting room without me even knowing who she was and just hugged me and said I’ll be fine. It was really encouraging for me.”
Whites and Xavier discussed all potential treatment plans together. They also made plans for Colten’s scans, which came back revealing his cancer was stage 4.
“Honestly, I wasn’t surprised. I kind of had a feeling that maybe it was just because of what she was telling me, what cancer looked like,” White said. “But it was a little shocking.”
With a stage 4 diagnosis, Dr. Xavier thought it best for White to undergo intense chemotherapy, which required him to be in and out of the hospital every two to three weeks. Over the next six months, he received all five cycles of critical chemo.
From the pain of severe mouth sores, fatigue and nausea to the emotional weight of losing all her hair at age 15, White said chemo was exhausting.
However, he said his support system of family, youth group, friends and faith helped him through the ordeal.
“My family continued to help me through this and the Lord was really the most important thing. … I know this was happening for a reason and I just had to trust Him and I would write Bible verses on the window that we were allowed to use that view of the city,” White said. “I was hoping it would encourage other cancer patients who might not have that. It wasn’t my only goal, but I also wanted it to remind me every day that I could just look at these verses and have the Lord’s promise.”
Just a week before Thanksgiving in 2020, the White family finally got the words they’ve been waiting to hear. Colten had beaten cancer.
“I knew I was going to hear those words…I did,” White said. “My doctor came over and said I was excited. I was like, I just did it, I just beat cancer.”
Nearly two years later, White remains cancer-free. He still visits The Children’s every three months for lab and surveillance work.
Dive to heal
The idea for “Dive for a Cure” slowly snowballed after White and her family brainstormed ways to give back during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month last September.
After going back to the drawing board several times, he said the idea came to them when they reflected on their love of scuba diving.
“It’s our family thing and everyone in the Hayden, Alabama community knows we do it because it’s so unique,” White said. “And in Panama City, even more people are doing it.”
The White family got to work creating a stir by making shirts and partnering with clubs at Colten High School.
“I spoke to different organizations and kind of promoted the idea. … We decided to sell like cookie brownies, ribbons, snacks, and we ended up raising almost $3,000” , White said. “And then I spoke in front of a large audience at a Friday night football game and a lot of people came out to show their support. … We also had a dedication ceremony after my speech, for all cancer survivors childhood or people currently going through cancer in our high school.”
The whites donated $3,000 to Children’s of Alabama for cancer research. White said one of the main drugs that saved his life was rituximab, which was approved for teenagers while he was receiving treatment.
He said his family is good friends with several divers in the Panama City Beach area and they are all excited about the tournament.
“A lot of people are saying they’re going to be in on it and it’s really encouraging and great to see it take off and perform,” White said.
White and Hospital officials are already planning for the tournament to return to the PCB as an annual event.
In a full-circle moment to donate to the hospital that helped restore him to health, he said he was humbled.
“I’m really grateful to be here to be able to do this. I never thought it would blow up like this,” White said. “It’s just mind-blowing, but I’m really grateful for that.”
To register and participate in “Dive for a Cure”, visit https://panamacity.org/event/inaugural-dive-for-a-cure-launches/.