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Cancer survivor's surprise is 'beyond belief'
Posted on Wed, Dec 1, 2010 at 8:21 am
by IDMA Editor

Earning a black belt in taekwondo didn't make Adam Steele a warrior - Beating cancer three times did.

The Independence teen will get the chance to teach others the way of the warrior after being accepted Monday into the American Taekwondo Association's Grand Leadership program, which will qualify him to become an instructor of the martial arts form.

His instructor surprised him with the honor during an awards ceremony Monday evening.

Adam Steele of Independence accepts his dobok jacket from American Taekwondo Association Master Marge Templeton at the Independence Christian Church on Monday - photos by Will Velarde/The Enquirer

"It feels awesome," Adam said. "Beyond belief."

His parents did a very good job of guarding the surprise, he said.

"They kept a big, big secret from me," he said.

"He is a warrior," said Tom Turner, chief instructor at Kenton County ATA Martial Arts Academy in Independence. "He's already won the fight of his life, and it was for his life."

Adam modeled the new dobok, or uniform, for his parents and Turner.

Adam hugs his mother, Angie, after being invited to the taekwondo leadership program.

"This is huge," he said, surveying the baggy sleeves.

"There's room to grow," Turner replied.

The American Taekwondo Association, based in Little Rock, Ark., will pick up the tab for the additional training and special uniforms.

Adam was just 3 when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"It's one of those things you never forget. It was Aug. 5, 1998, about 3 p.m.," said his father, David Steele.

After several rugged rounds of chemotherapy, he beat the cancer.

Until he was 7, when it came back. He beat it again.

Until he was 11, when it came back again.

The recurrences puzzled Tim Cripe, the cancer expert overseeing Adam's care at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Usually recurrences of the kind of cancer Adam had occur within short spans of time, Cripe said, not several years apart.

"I vividly remember presenting his case at a conference and everyone sort of looked around at each other," Cripe said. "And then someone said, 'Have you checked him for one of these immune deficiencies?' And the light bulb came on."

Adam was diagnosed with X-linked lymphoproliferative, or XLP, a rare, inherited immune deficiency. It only affects boys, and many boys with it die by the time they're 11 if they don't get a bone-marrow transplant, the only proven treatment.

The type of lymphoma Adam had might be linked to viral infection, and XLP is believed to be an overreaction to a certain type of viral infection. The disorder leaves the body unable to fight off several types of serious infections.

"If he'd actually gotten one of those relevant viral infections, he might not have survived it," Cripe said.

It's rare to see patients with both non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and XLP, Cripe said.

"Adam's the only patient I've ever had who's had XLP," he said. "And I've seen lots of patients with non-Hodgkin's."

Adam's parents - David and Angie - and younger brother, Ryan, now 13, weren't matches for a bone-marrow transplant. The family asked its church to pray for them, David Steele said, "and the next week, we got a phone call that said, 'We found a match.' The power of prayer."

Adam got the bone-marrow transplant from an unknown donor in November 2006. He's been healthy since.

He started studying taekwondo about 2 years ago. In July, he earned a black belt.

He's been a regular participant in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life fundraiser since his recovery. He organized a team at Simon Kenton High School, and he asked Turner to organize a team at the academy.

A few months ago, he contacted the American Taekwondo Association and asked them to send a representative to the team.

The head of the association lost a relative to cancer. Adam shared his story, and officials were so impressed that they decided to pay for his leadership program training.

Adam had already asked his parents to let him participate; they told him he'd have to wait until he was 16.

"We're so excited for him," Angie Steele said. "He's been wanting this forever."

Adam plans to make taekwondo a lifelong pursuit.

"My goal is to go as far with it as I possibly can, and that's a ninth-degree black belt," he said.

He hasn't sat down and done the math, he added, but, "I'm guessing it possibly could be 40, 50 years."

It will take him about three years to become an instructor. Respect is one of the central tenets of taekwondo and all martial arts, but Adam thinks he can teach his students another important lesson.

"The most important for me, from what I've experienced, is to never go back, to never give up and to always try your best," he said.

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