Cancer Victim's Father: 'Why Won't This Just Stop?'
Glenn Lightner continues to fight disease as family's funds nearly exhausted.
Dribble, dribble, shoot. Grab the basketball, find a new spot on the driveway, do it again.
That’s what an ordinary summer night looks like for Glenn Lightner at his Long Valley home.
It’s also the pattern his life has taken over the last few years.
Lightner, a 13-year-old soon-to-be eighth-grader at the Long Valley Middle School, has been battling anaplastic ependymoma Grade III brain cancer since December 2007.
The quiet, unassuming teen spent this spring in Germany and Belgium undergoing alternative medicinal therapies after years of treatment in the United States led to neutral results.
Lightner and his mother, Silvia, spent those weeks overseas while Glenn’s father, Larry, and younger brother, Carl, stayed home. Carl, 11 at the time, needed to finish the school year and Larry continued to work.
When some of the Lightner’s neighbors heard about what was going on and learned the family’s eldest son was heading to Europe, a volunteer committee formed with the idea of fundraising to help the family with their costs.
The result and the community’s feedback was astounding. In a matter of six weeks, more than $100,000 was donated to the Lightners to help them pursue efforts in finding a cure for Glenn.
The funds couldn’t have come at a better time, Larry Lightner said, who was on the verge of putting the family’s home up for sale. Glenn’s parents were seeking personal loans and other ways to pay for the expenses because, at that time, they just couldn’t afford it.
“We were freed,” Larry Lightner said about the committee taking on the responsibility of garnering funds. “We were stunned. We didn’t know what to think. It gave us an opportunity to save Glenn.”
But cost of living temporarily in Europe, along with receiving medical treatment not covered by insurance added up quickly. Over the course of three months and one week, the family used $70,000 of the donated funds strictly for living and medical expenses. The cost was originally estimated at $100,000 for less than eight weeks.
Now with approximately $50,000 remaining and a schedule of treatments upcoming in Germany and Belgium—Glenn and Silvia flew back over the weekend—the available funds are going away quickly.
And when Glenn returned from Germany, an MRI revealed three more tumors on his brain.
That’s not the result the family was hoping for.
“Sometimes, you want to give up,” Silvia Lightner said about the return of tumors. “It’s difficult, but you have to regroup. You have no choice.”
“I was just pissed,” Larry Lightner said. “Why won’t this just stop? I’m not used to not being able to solve a problem, and we’re faced with this.”
Glenn, who’s shown no effects from his illness or recent treatments, continues to play basketball, spend time with friends and follow his favorite team, the Memphis Grizzlies.
He knows the tumors keep coming back and more treatments are needed, his father said. It’s become part of life, unfortunately, but the teen is doing what’s needed.
“It’s become more of an annoyance than anything for him,” Larry Lightner said. “As long as you tell Glenn what’s coming up, give him a few days to go with it, he’s fine. He goes with it.”
“I don’t like flying,” Glenn says, smirking under a mop of hair similar to that of many of his peers.
Another Boost From the Community
Fundraising committee member Dorene Rettas, who spearheaded the Rally in the Valley event in April, which generated $36,000, is back to finding—and organizing—events to help the Lightner family pursue a cure for their son.
“The point of us doing this is to take every stressor out of the equation for them,” Rettas said. “They have so much going on–let us handle this part (for them).”
The group, along with Long Valley Coach, has also organized a trip to Mt. Airy Casino in Pennsylvania, which could raise about $8,000, Rettas said. Tickets are still available for that event, and will be sold on a first come, first-served basis.
The group has also organized a raffle for a condominium in Disney World to the winner, which was donated by a community member, Rettas said.
“The help has been continuous,” Larry Lightner said. “It’s not something I ever imagined could happen.”
“There’s only so much you can ask from a community,” Rettas said. “People have families, time commitments. It’s understandable. But we’re kind of (back) where we started right now.
“But we’re not going to stop (fundraising) until Glenn is better,” she said.
Glenn Lightner takes a minute away from shooting around in the driveway with a neighborhood friend to show off his autographed Marc Gasol basketball jersey. Gasol is Lightner’s favorite player from his favorite team, which he was able to see play in person while he was receiving treatment at St. Jude’s in Tennessee.
He seems unfazed by the commotion around him, just trying to be a 13-year-old like the rest of his friends, going through the motions of whatever life is throwing at him.
Dribble, dribble, shoot. The teen grabs a rebound, retreats, and sinks another shot.
With the community behind him, Lightner can’t miss.