Rusty Bowling

Rusty Bowling, 7, will spend his Thanksgiving this year at home with his family, with cancer-free scans.

A local family is expressing extra gratitude this Thanksgiving.

Just two years ago, Joe and MaKayla Bowling received devastating news when their 4-year-old son, Rusty, was diagnosed with stage-four high-risk neuroblastoma — a cancer found in the adrenal glands just above the kidneys.

The diagnosis came as a shock to the family. MaKayla Bowling said in the beginning she felt like she had been punched in the gut, previously saying it was like “someone took the air out of me and I couldn’t breathe anymore.”

MaKayla said she had conversations with Rusty’s doctors.

“You hear stage-four and you automatically think he’s going to die,” MaKayla said.

“I asked his doctors if it was a death sentence.”

MaKayla said she avoided hearing statistical answers from Rusty’s medical team saying, “My son is not a statistic.”

MaKayla recalled shortly after having Rusty anointed at church, she made the trip to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital — just Rusty and her — for a round of chemotherapy.

“It was just me in the car and Rusty was sleeping in the back seat,” she said.

In that moment, she broke down — crying out to God, “I don’t know how to be the mother that buries her son.”

“I could feel His arms around me,” MaKayla said, giving her a feeling of calmness. “He told me Rusty would be fine.”

Rusty would go on to receive several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow checks and transplants, and a surgery to remove a tumor.

MaKayla said Rusty was not expected to bounce back so quickly after surgery, with doctors expecting him to require a ventilator in the following days, but he was up and walking after a few days instead.

“He beat all odds,” MaKayla said.

Rusty was declared in NED (no evidence of disease) in October 2020 and has tested NED in every scan since.

Now 7, Rusty will be rechecked every three months. MaKayla said if his scans are clear again next March, he will graduate to being checked every six months, with scans becoming less frequent over time.

“He’s mean,” MaKayla laughed when asked how her son was today.

“I guess he’s not really mean, but he is rotten,” saying that her boy was all boy — loving dirt, baseball and hunting.

MaKayla said through all the trials and tribulations, Rusty remained happy.

“He never really changed. That’s the blessing of pediatric cancer, they don’t know what they’re up against,” she said.

The Bowlings say they’re most thankful for the little things this year — rejoicing over small sibling quarrels (with sisters Hailey Jo and Dixie) and fighting to get everybody ready for school in the mornings.

“It makes me thankful for rushing around on Sunday looking for a glove or baseball shoes,” MaKayla said.

The Bowlings are also thankful for God as “He’s still in the healing business,” MaKayla said.

Lastly the Bowlings thank the community, which rallied around Rusty for the duration of his battle.

“We appreciate the entire community and want to thank them for all the fundraisers, donations, support and prayers,” MaKayla said.

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