Despite cancer, Frisco boy always found the strength to go on

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by By JON NIELSEN / The Dallas Morning News jnielsen@dallasnews.com

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:47 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 12:36 PM

The Frisco boy with cancer in his body stood the tallest on top of Diamond Head State Monument in Honolulu that day.

Connor Cruse got up the mountain on the shoulders of a family friend. They looked out over the Pacific Ocean, and then Connor announced that he would walk down on his own.

"I'm not sick; I have cancer," he said boldly before hiking two hours down the mountain earlier this year.

Connor, who endured four years of the childhood cancer neuroblastoma, died Friday afternoon at Children's Medical Center at Legacy. He was 8.

Visitation is 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in the fireside room at Prestonwood Baptist Church, 6801 W. Park Blvd. The funeral is 10 a.m. Tuesday at the church.

"He didn't view himself as sick. He never considered himself different," said Tait Cruse, the boy's father, who started a foundation supporting pediatric cancer research. "There was always that adventurous spirit that said, 'I may be tired, but I'm going to get up and go.' "

Doctors gave Connor a month or two to live when they diagnosed his disease. That was four years ago.

He endured countless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, blood transfusions, a 16-hour surgery and 70 pills a day to ward off the cancer. Connor never complained.

"He'd always look at you and give you a thumbs-up," said Patrick Matthews, the father of one of Connor's closest friends, Mollie-Claire Matthews.

Connor focused on superheroes, sports, friends and his Christian faith. He also shared bits of wisdom and achievements that staggered those around him.

Years of treatment weakened Connor, but from somewhere he found strength. In April, when he could barely lift a baseball bat, he found enough energy to play a baseball game, the last he would play.

With a tumor growing inside him, he walked to the plate and knocked in the game-winning run for his team. It was a soft hit, positioned just between the fielders, that allowed Connor to reach first base safely.

Everyone cheered, including the other team, and Connor earned the ceremonial game ball.

"It was like a movie," Tait Cruse said. "The next week, he couldn't even carry the bat. He'd sit at practice and watch his friends."

Out of Connor's fight came hope. In January 2007, Connor received notice that astronauts on the space station had a prayer meeting for him. Obviously, Connor thought that was cool.

Then the 6-year-old said that if there can be astronauts in space, surely there can be a cure for cancer.

That's something his parents are working toward. Tait and his wife, Joy, launched the Team Connor Cancer Foundation, which has worked to raise money to find a cure.

"I asked him once, 'What do you want to do with Team Connor?' " said his father. "He said, 'I want for another kid to not go through what I've had to go through.' "

In addition to his parents, Connor is survived by his sister, Mackenzie, 11; and brothers, Carson, 7, and Mason, 3, all of Frisco.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Team Connor, 12221 Merit Drive, Suite 1500, Dallas, Texas 75251, or made online at www.teamconnor.org.

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