BCSD student shares the story about his battle with childhood cancer
Published on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020
BCSD photo / Monica Kreber
Christian Oman has a lot of interests – drawing, music, making sure his voice is heard as he cheers on his favorite hockey team.
Those who really know him, and the special relationship he formed with his adoptive parents 13 years ago, know he is a familiar face at Stratford High, and know his family is a big advocate for childhood cancer awareness.
Christian is 19 years old and currently finishing up some courses to complete his education track, but was able to walk with his Stratford High classmates when the class of 2020 graduated in June.
Walking with the graduating class was a major milestone for Christian – doctors originally told his mother that he likely would not make it to graduation.
Christian has had to deal with cancer, and the long-term effects of cancer treatment, for most of his life.
With September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Christian and Susan share their journey, while one of his Berkeley County School District teachers logs in some bicycling miles to fundraise for pediatric cancer.
Susan Jager actually met Christian when he was first brought to MUSC Children’s Hospital, where she was ophthalmic technician, and he became one of her patients. He was 6 years old at the time.
Christian was brought in from Myrtle Beach for emergency brain surgery after six months of vomiting and headaches, and he had already lost his sight from what turned out to be a brain tumor; medulloblastoma is a cancerous tumor that most commonly forms in the cerebellum, the bottom part of the brain located at the back of the skull that can also spread through the spine.
Christian was in DSS care at that point. Susan recalled not knowing anything about this little boy who had just been brought in – “but I knew he was going to be mine, I couldn’t even explain it to you.”
He went through chemotherapy and radiation for a year, and spent about four months in the hospital after the first brain surgery. About a year later, he was adopted by Susan and his now-dad, Eric Oman.
She remembered visiting him in the hospital one Christmas, “and I felt God speak to me louder than anything and say, ‘This is the child I want you to have, and you need to do something about it.’”
Over the next few years, Christian had multiple medical problems affiliated with the chemotherapy and radiation, including heart problems and developmental delays. He continues to take medication for these issues.
Christian is legally blind – he can see somewhat through one eye. He also has to wear hearing aids.
Four years ago, when he was starting high school, he had a reoccurrence of medulloblastoma and started having bad seizures, which had not previously been a problem. His legs would shake sometimes up to 12 hours, Susan said, and she took him multiple times to the emergency room. Doctors had trouble figuring out what was wrong until his brain tumor clinic nurse witnessed the shaking firsthand and said he needed to be admitted into the hospital. A neurologist diagnosed him with a neurological condition called myoclonus, and scans showed some questionable spots in the lining of his brain – “which was not good,” Susan said.
Christian had “maxed out” on radiation treatment, meaning he could not have anymore radiation treatment, and if they did chemo he likely was not going to make it because of his body’s condition.
Susan contacted places all over the country looking for somebody doing clinical trials in secondary medulloblastoma. She found one in Boston, but once that hospital received his records they gave similar answers – that Christian’s body was in such a fragile state that he couldn’t touch him.
Christian continued to be in an out of the hospital for all sorts of neurological problems, having MRIs done every two months, for about a year – and it was amazing, Susan said, that he was alive.
Then, after a year, they noticed the spots were showing up in different places in the brain again.
At that point, all they could do was pray – and prayers came from around the world as well.
“It was up to God at that point,” Susan said.
One day, Susan got a call from his doctors; the spots were gone.
“They were dumbfounded – they had no idea what was going on,” Susan said.
Christian’s seizures were still getting worse. He went through a few more scans and the spots lessened and lessened – but doctors did not have an answer for the phenomenon.
During Christian’s junior year, the last MRI revealed no more spots in neither his spine nor in the lining of his brain. He did have a tumor that had started growing in the area where he had the first tumor, but the other spots were gone.
“We had so many people praying for a miracle for this child that I totally believe that that’s all it could have been,” she said.
The tumor was so deep in the brain that doctors could not get to it – so today everyone is just keeping an eye on it.
In March Christian had his ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt replaced (a medical device that relieves pressure on the brain caused by fluid). He has since had two other procedures including an embolization of the main artery in the head.
Despite three brain surgeries in the last five months, Christian is doing well – amazingly well, Susan said.
He has been going to school as much as he can for the last couple of years. His nickname at school is “Speedy Gonzales”.
“I’m usually speeding through the halls,” Christian said.
Stratford High students have done a lot to show their classmate their support; last year they did an entire week of “Go Gold” for Christian, and Renaissance students did lots of fundraising for childhood cancer in his honor. There was a whole spread in the yearbook about it.
Christian has gone to prom every year. The school’s student journalists have interviewed him about childhood cancer awareness as well as blindness and what he wanted his classmates to know about it.
“Everybody knew him and a lot of the kids he had gone to middle school with and everybody kind of followed the story,” she said, adding, “They have been amazing – everybody there, the teachers, the principal, everybody…I have nothing but good things to say about that school. They have really tried to accommodate him in every way possible.”
He was able to walk with Stratford High’s class of 2020 in June, but has some courses to complete on his certification track.
Getting to walk with the class of 2020 was a major milestone for Christian – this is someone who was previously told he would not make it to graduation.
“That was such a big deal for us,” she said, adding “I get a chill every time I tell that story.”
Angela Katsilanos previously taught Christian at Stratford High (she is now at Boulder Bluff Elementary).
"Despite having cancer, Christian Oman gives 100 percent in all of his classwork and participates in class actively. He wants to be in school and hates missing it," she said. "When absent due to his illness, he completes all of his assignments within days of returning back to school. He has a positive attitude towards his teachers and peers. He is an outstanding role model and never gives up."
Christian likes math. He has a number of interests including music – he has tried to learn to play the piano and guitar. He taught himself a tune on the piano just by listening to it. His dream job would be to work with the LEGO company, or to become an illustrator.
“I can draw mostly anything,” he said. “I can make a lot of characters and all that.”
He stayed busy this summer doing virtual summer camp. With the ongoing pandemic he has missed hanging out with his friends but enjoys keeping in touch with them.
He is a huge fan of the Charleston Stingrays hockey team – the team has had a jersey made for him, among other memorabilia like signed sticks and pucks. He is very anxious for hockey season to start back up and go back to games.
“I beat on the glass so darn hard,” he said. “I think…everybody can hear me.”
Cancer treatment can have difficult long-term effects on patients. In Christian’s case, it damaged his heart, his hearing, his thyroid – and more.
However, he has done really well compared to other children.
“It’s been a rough road, but he’s still here,” Susan said.
Childhood cancer is something the family tries to advocate for by pointing out it is much more prevalent than one would think.
Susan said the people they have met on their journey have really stepped up to do their part to help him or honor him.
“Just the humanitarian side of it and what they’ve done just to bring awareness to this disease is amazing,” Susan said, adding she likes to think it’s part of God’s plan, that Christian will “get the word out” about childhood cancer. “For everything he has been through, this kid has such an amazing faith and amazing attitude. He doesn’t let anything stop him.”
Michelle Howard is a teacher for the visually impaired in Berkeley County School District. She has taught Christian for the last six years.
Howard is currently participating in the Great Cycle Challenge (GCC) to fight children’s cancer. Anything she raises will support the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.
Howard’s goal is to ride 350 miles on her bike throughout the month of September and raise $2,500. As of Sept. 15, she has ridden 118 miles and raised about $949.
She is riding in tribute to Christian. Hers and Christian’s photos have been featured in Times Square in New York on “Tribute Day” (Aug. 19), which is held each year in Times Square; GCC posts the pictures of riders and the people they are riding in honor of for the entire day on the Times Square billboard.
This is Howard’s second year riding for GCC to raise funds and awareness for Children’s Cancer.
“Bicycling is a hobby that I enjoy doing and therefore I thought if I was going to ride my bike anyway, why not ride it for a good cause,” she said.
Howard said fundraising through GCC is easy; the organization gives the riders templates to follow for e-mails and communication. The riders can link their fundraising pages with their Facebook pages to ask family and friends for donations as well.
Howard has been trying to stress how common childhood cancer actually is to those who visit her fundraising page. More than 15,700 American children are diagnosed with cancer every year; 38 children die every week from cancer.
Riders with GCC are riding to give these children the brighter futures they deserve.
“The thing that stands out the most to me about Christian is that even though he's been through all he's been through with the multiple surgeries and all of the implications from surgeries and cancer treatments is that he's still so positive and upbeat,” Howard said.
People can help a number of ways: donating to GCC and then getting on their bikes and raising awareness by informing other people about GCC and childhood cancer.
Direct donations can be made on Howard's fundraising page.
BCSD photo / Monica Kreber : Christian Oman (left photo, top left square) and Michelle Howard (right photo, bottom right square) on display in Times Square.
Christian and Susan have formed so many special relationships with the people they’ve met along the way – the doctors and nurses, his teachers, members of numerous cancer organizations.
Christian’s message to other children who are facing cancer: “You’re not alone.”
Susan piggybacked off of that, encouraging families to “keep the faith” and let others help if they offer.
“There’s so many people out there that want to do something, and don’t know what to do, and that was the biggest gift we got…all the love and the help that we got from everybody,” she said.
Susan is certain that there is something amazing her son is supposed to do – “we’ll see what it is.”