Waylan Kruse is lying on his back, eyes closed, legs crossed, looking much like a boy napping in the park on a warm, summer day. He manages to relax despite the loud whirring of the strange machine overhead. He is calm even though, any second now, another high-level dose of radiation will be directed toward his brain.
It is just after 8 a.m. Most of Kruse's schoolmates at Calvary Chapel High are on their way to biology or geometry or American literature. Kruse, the quarterback of the school's football team, is lying on a table in a cold, sterile room at UCI Medical Center. In 12 hours, Kruse will lead the Eagle offense against powerful L.A. Baptist. As for now, he must undergo another radiation treatment to shrink the tumor in his head.
Most high school quarterbacks wake up on game day thinking of roaring crowds, perfect spirals and game-winning touchdown passes. Kruse, a junior, woke up Friday morning knowing he had just entered Day 5 in his battle against juvenile angiofibroma, a fibrous, non-cancerous tumor that can grow at a dangerous rate.
It was a month ago today a doctor discovered the strange mass wrapped around Kruse's optic nerve. Although the tumor was benign, it was expanding and, if left untreated, it could cause serious problems, the doctor said, even death. Kruse was told his football career was over.
The initial recommendation was radiation treatment to shrink the tumor, then perform surgery to remove what was left. But with surgery came considerable risk. Kruse, surrounded by his parents, grandparents, two brothers and an aunt, sat in the doctor's office and listened carefully.
The operation would take about 24 hours, the doctor said. The incision would be from ear to ear. The procedure would be as delicate as separating Siamese twins. There was a chance Kruse might go blind in the process, suffer a stroke or die.
The doctor asked if there were any questions. No one uttered a word. It was all too horrible, too shocking. Together, the family prayed please let this be a mistake.
A few days later, they received a second opinion from doctors at UCLA Medical Center. Waylan didn't require surgery, they were told, just four weeks of radiation. He should continue living as he normally would--go to school, have fun, play football. It is this course the Kruses decided to take.
Dan Kruse says some have criticized him for allowing his son to continue in football. The radiation might leave him in a weakened state, they say. He might get hurt. Why take unnecessary risks? Dan says they don't understand how much Waylan loves the game, how it crushed his son to be told that he might never play again. He points out repeatedly that Waylan's current doctors say football is OK.
Waylan, a soft-spoken boy who wears around his neck the gold cross his grandma gave him, says he hopes to play football in college and wants to be a policeman some day. Friday morning, he sat in the lobby at UCI Medical Center, shrugging as he spoke about the radiation's side effects. He doesn't feel like eating much, but it hasn't really bothered him, he says. He feels much more fatigued than normal, but he'll be OK.
He knows the radiation might cause him to lose some hair, that his eyes might develop cataracts, that he must stay out of the sun so as not to soak up any unnecessary radiation. He knows he has to continually drink fluids because the radiation dries out his mouth, which in turn, might rot his teeth. None of this seems to bring him down.
At UCI, he sees people in worse shape than he is, such as the man who can no longer speak. Some come in in wheelchairs. Others look as if they have given up hope. Some are so terrified about receiving treatment, they have to be strapped down.
He says it is his strong Christian faith that helps him through. That and the support of his family. His father is a minister, his father's father, too. During the rough moments last month, he couldn't believe the support he received. A woman he did not know wrote him a letter to boost his spirits. His friends made him an air-brushed T-shirt for good luck. His grandmother who works at a Texas prison had prisoners praying for him to have a fast recovery.
"I pretty much believe it's all in God's hands," Kruse says.
Calvary Chapel Coach Kris Van Hook calls it a "major miracle" that Kruse is playing. Though the Eagles lost to L.A. Baptist, 27-3, Friday night, it's a triumph just to have Kruse in the game.
"If anything, we have to hold him back," Van Hook said before Friday's game. "He wants to be in there, hitting."
Fortunately, Kruse leaves that job to his teammates. His offensive line, he says, is playing better this year. He says he doubts if his medical condition has inspired the linemen to play harder.
"I just know I have a lot more faith in them this year," he says.
Just as he does in everything else.