By Laura Kaae
Killeen Daily Herald
Like many 21-year-olds, Ray Foster is into parties, NASCAR and of course, girls.
He threw a big party last summer with all his family and friends at Hooters — he loves the appetizers there and, OK, he’ll admit, the pretty waitresses, too. In Foster’s room, a picture frame holds photos of that celebration — of Foster grinning with buddies and blushing as the waitresses posed with them. Above Foster’s bed hangs a T-shirt from that night, which everyone at the party signed.
And like many 21-year-olds, Foster turns red when you ask about the T-shirt or the photos or his love life or if he has a girlfriend.
“I wish,” he says with a wide smile.
But unlike other men his age, under the T-shirt that hangs over his bed there is a shelf, and next to the gummy worms and M&Ms are bottles of medicine — from chemotherapy meds to anti-depressive medicines, as well as doctors’ orders and prescriptions. All play their part in Foster’s daily ritual to treat the cancerous tumor in his brain.
Now living with his grandmother, Kay Foster, Ray spends his days staring out the windows that face her backyard, a wide acre lot in Killeen.
His speech is slurred and his arms twitch, but he smiles when he talks and laughs at just about everything. He laughs that no one has taken down the Happy Birthday sign hanging in his room, a sign just four feet from the foot of his bed, but four feet farther than Foster can reach without assistance.
He laughs when he bumps the red bell taped to the side of his hospital bed.
“I ring it when I need something,” he says.
When asked what he does all day, he chuckles quietly.
“You see it,” he says, gently tossing his twitching arms up in the air. As he points around his room, his Texas Longhorn tattoo is visible on his left arm.
“I’m here, and I watch TV. That’s it.”
His grandmother mentions that he has therapy and doctors appointments at several locations throughout the week, and that he used to play on the computer.
Foster once was hooked on MySpace, but it’s too difficult for him to type now. And besides, his friends don’t chat with him much anymore, on MySpace. Or in person.
Things weren’t like this a year ago. In October 2006, the month he turned 20, everything was going very well in Foster’s life.
Sure, money was tight, but he was working several jobs to make ends meet, including jobs at Screens and Covers in Copperas Cove, a business in Killeen, and for a while, he was driving to and from Waco every day for a job on an assembly line.
His ultimate goal was to one day attend Texas A&M for equine medicine. And in the meantime, he was going to work hard, save money and party, too.
But last January, the slight tremor in his arms (something he’d had since he was a child) started getting worse. He cut his arm at his assembly line job and had to quit working there. Foster felt fine and didn’t think much about it.
In April, he began slurring his words, something he’d never done before, and Kay encouraged him to go to the doctor.
“I didn’t know what it was,” says Foster. “So, whatever, I just dealt with it.”
The Killeen Free Clinic referred him to Scott & White Memorial Hospital, where, on May 1, a CT scan located a tumor in his brain.
A shunt was placed in Foster’s brain six days after the tumor was found, and a biopsy was taken.
Foster nervously laughs when he talks about it; nothing in his 20 years could have prepared him for that kind of news.
What went through his mind on that day he found out he had brain cancer?
“I don’t know. I mean, how do you deal with that?” he asks.
Foster went in for surgery in June, a surgery where doctors attempted to remove the growing tumor in his brain, a tumor that, as his grandmother describes it, “was so deep, the tentacles went way into his brain.” Though doctors removed part of the tumor, some of it could not be taken out.
A large mark on the back of Foster’s head reveals his battle scar from that surgery.
He’s on chemotherapy once a month to reduce the tumor, and so far it’s shrunk 20 percent.
Foster also goes to several doctors appointments during the week, as well as physical therapy.
In therapy, Foster tries to gain strength once again in his legs, and uses balance bars to help him walk.
“I wanted to be walking by my birthday,” he says of his 21st, which came and went last month. “But that didn’t happen, so now I don’t know.”
At least a highlight for Foster is the nurses and therapists he works with, says his grandmother.
“He gets distracted by pretty girls,” she says. “They all know him up there.”
The self-described redneck (he loves Jeff Foxworthy jokes, country music and NASCAR driver Tony Stewart) says his goal now is just to get better “ASAP.”
Through it all, Kay says, Foster kept everyone laughing.
“He’s always been the comedian of the family.”
Even in the ICU, she says, he snuck out.
“That’s when we started calling him Houdini,” she says. “He found a back door to the ICU and he went out to smoke a cigarette.”
Foster smiles when she tells this story. He can’t sneak out now to go smoke, he needs assistance to get to the door, or to the bathroom, or even to feed himself. His parents and grandmother take turns helping with his care.
But Foster takes his illness in strides, and, he says, at least the cancer hasn’t ruined his appetite for the finer things in life.
Finer things such as sushi and frappuccino. Finer things such as his dreams of one day getting better and taking up welding like he did in high school. And finer things like attending Texas A&M for those college parties.
“Oh,” he says with a laugh. “And for equine medicine.”
Contact Laura Kaae at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7464