“Always stay positive.”
It’s a simple motto that powers the Schlereth family: keep a positive mindset through any situation one might face. Even when 9-year-old Colin was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2014. Even on the hard days, it came through.
That positive mindset is evident in everything they do – and it’s contagious.
Following his brother’s footsteps
Colin was eager to get on the ice.
His brother who is four years older than him was out there, so why couldn’t he be? At just 4 years old, his parents allowed him to join his brother on the ice, but they recommended the chair sled to help his balance. He skated past it.
At a very young age, Colin was an advanced hockey player. He played a division up, crossing paths with a lot of his brother’s friends. He was the youngest, but quickly earned a bit of a reputation with the referees as being ‘feisty’. He loved hockey, and he was good at it.
But, when hockey was taken away, it made the comeback even better.
“He terrorized the hospital.”
For such an active child, signs started to appear that something was not quite right. One of the first signs was his skating instructor noticing he wasn’t quite moving as well as expected. Then he fell and hit his head while playing ‘monkey in the middle’ with friends. A few weeks after that, a call from a school nurse saying he was dizzy and lightheaded. These signs led to a doctor’s appointment and an MRI on June 7, 2014.
On that terrible day, Colin was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a plum.
Surgery was scheduled four days later to remove the tumor. After surgery, they found out it was cancerous. Colin did not leave the hospital for weeks.
It was a jarring experience but given the family’s commitment to keeping a positive mindset, Colin still found ways to have fun during his stay at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
There were nerf gun battles, movies, dance parties, games and a lot of teasing.
“We didn’t leave the hospital in between and he did not go into the hospital sick. He terrorized that hospital,” Colin’s mom Becky said while laughing. “He was no different than before. He had nerf guns, and it didn’t matter if you were the oncology doctor or one of the best neurosurgeons around, he would chase them down the hall and shoot them.”
The Schlereth family credits the outstanding medical care team for not only caring for their son, but for the experience they provided the whole family during this time.
“They treat those kids as a part of the entire process, they tell them everything. They’re a part of the conversation to the point where they’re in charge of their own care in some ways. So, they build a relationship with these kids, and they build a trust.”
Colin underwent six weeks of proton radiation, a grueling experience that required him to be secured onto a table for targeted treatment five days a week. Following radiation, he had 13 months of chemotherapy. They needed to ensure every cell of the cancer was killed. Each treatment came with three or four nights stay at the hospital, but Colin enjoyed seeing the nurses and doctors he grew to love.
Fifteen months after his original diagnosis, he officially rang the bell in August of 2015, signifying the end of his treatment.
“He loved the game so much.”
After many conversations with doctors, Colin was able to get back on the ice. He joined a team, but he went from being one of the better players in the age group above him to a lower-level player in his own age group.
He eased back in, starting with practice, and then a couple of minutes in a few games before making his full return. Mentally, he knew cancer had taken a toll on his skills, and that was hard to face but he stayed positive and grateful.
The Schlereths felt the full support of the community when Colin returned – the rink was filled, local TV stations were there, and the St. Louis Blues’ mascot Louie made an appearance.
It was an awesome experience, something that he worked hard for. It was a long 15 months of treatment to reach this moment.
“The hockey community, it’s small but it’s mighty,” Becky said. “It’s really kind of cool… It was really a special day that he was able to go back out and play the game. In the end, he loved the game so much.”
His friends, his motivation
There were a lot of people who rallied around Colin during his battle, people he now considers some of his heroes – all his doctors and nurses, his teachers, his friends and teammates, his family and more. But two really stuck out.
First, his friend Brett. Brett was a fellow cancer patient in St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The two became best friends immediately, sharing a lot of life experiences together. They would go on excursions together and have fun in the midst of really hard times.
Unfortunately, Brett passed away from his cancer in 2017. It was hard on Colin and he dealt with survivors’ remorse at the tender age of 11. It was the first time he saw cancer as fatal, and losing Brett made Colin’s family see the importance of research and how it played a role in his battle.
Second, his child life specialist Whitney. While in the hospital, Colin had a strong bond with one of his caretakers. Because of the tremendous impact she made on him, Colin now hopes to help others in a similar position.
Right now, he works at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, supporting young patients in the shoes he wore a decade ago. He hopes to become a child life specialist in the future, continuing to help children like himself and Brett, and following in Whitney’s footsteps.
“It’s your mind that takes you through the cancer,” Colin said on wanting to help others. “It’s to make you feel positive going through it. Coming from me, it would probably be best because I have all the experience behind it.”
Honoring his friends and lending his voice
In June 2024, Colin will reach the 10-year cancer-free mark. It’ll be a day of celebration to reach the milestone, remember what he’s gone through and look toward the future.
Today, Colin’s passions come from his past experiences. He stays positive and wants to help others. He’s seen the impact of cancer, and it drives him to his future ambitions. He wants to honor Brett and Whitney for the impact they made in his life.
Colin and his family are passionate about lending his story to magnify awareness and encourage others to help children faced with cancer. That’s why they’ve partnered with organizations like Hockey Fights Cancer through the St. Louis Blues and the V Foundation. They’re dedicated to a future of Victory Over Cancer®.
“The cool thing is that I can walk around anywhere, and people would not even notice me,” Colin said. “People ask me, ‘Are you sick?’ I’m like, ‘Nah, I was, but not anymore.’ That’s probably what Victory Over Cancer® means to me – that I’m here and I’m just normal.”