Bone Cancer Survivor Becomes Leader in Education

Written By:Stacy Simon

Craig King spends his working days making a difference in education. Six months out of the year, he advocates on behalf of funding for public school in South Carolina, as a lobbyist for the Palmetto State Teachers Association. The other half of the year, he speaks to education students about becoming better teachers and encourages them to become board-certified.

King has a special appreciation for the value of an education. Shortly after he graduated from high school, he was forced to put his college plans on hold because of a cancer diagnosis.

College postponed

King's cancer story started in 1999, when he was a 17-year-old graduate of Manning High School in Manning, SC (population 4,025). A football and baseball player, he planned to attend South Carolina State University that fall. Those plans were put on hold in July though, after King was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone tumor.

For months prior to his diagnosis, King had been living with a lump below his left knee. "It didn't hurt," he recalls, and being so active, he just assumed it was some type of sports injury and ignored it. Then one day, while making his bed, he bumped his leg and was shocked by the pain. Two doctors were stumped by the problem.

"At that point, I was scared," King says. He was referred to a third physician, who gave him the bad news. King would be starting cancer treatment, not college. Worse yet, he might lose his leg. "It didn't hit me initially," King remembers. "When I got home I realized the impact. I wanted my leg!"

A long journey

His treatment was difficult and lengthy, but saved his leg. Surgeons replaced King's left tibia, or shin bone, with a healthy tibia acquired from a bone bank and attached with metal supports. His left kneecap was removed and reconstructed. His chemotherapy treatments lasted nearly a year. It took months of physical therapy for him to learn to walk again. "I was bedridden for a while after surgery, and then had a wheelchair," he recalls. "I went from the wheelchair to a brace, to crutches, to a walker, and then walking alone."

During this time, King found lots of support in his family, friends, and church. He also found it in the American Cancer Society. His first contact with ACS came after a hospital counselor told him about Relay For Life, the annual event held in communities across the country and the world to celebrate cancer survivors and remember those who have been lost to the disease, as well as raise funds for cancer research and programs. King says he had heard of the event, and even walked around the track at his local Relay a few times, "but I never knew the true meaning."

King graduated from South Carolina State University in 2004 with a degree in elementary education and began his career in education as a third-grade teacher in Orangeburg, SC.  "I let my students know I had cancer," said King. "I hope none of my [students] experience cancer, but if that happens… they can look back and say, 'Mr. King did it and I can, too.' "

A purposeful life

"We have a lot to celebrate and we have a lot to fight for. As long as people are suffering from cancer, I know I have a purpose."

Craig King

These days, King and his family field their own Relay team. He estimates the 20-member team has raised more than $75,000 in the past 10 years.  Their signature team fundraiser is a gala held every 2 years that keeps getting bigger and bigger. The 2012 event attracted people from all over the country and raised $10,000. The next one will celebrate King’s 14 years of survivorship. They hope to raise $20,000. “We have a lot to celebrate and we have a lot to fight for,” said King. “As long as people are suffering from cancer, I know I have a purpose.”

King supports other cancer-related causes, too. Each summer, he works as a counselor at Camp Kemo, a summer camp for kids with cancer and their siblings that he attended during his own treatment. He also spends time at the children's cancer center in Columbia, SC, cheering up the kids in treatment.

When a teenager at the center is diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a counselor there usually calls King. “The first question is – they want to see my leg,” said King.  “When they see somebody that had the same cancer they have – who is doing well and working – it’s like, ‘I can beat this. I can do it too.’”

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