State Rep. Dwight Tosh, R-Jonesboro, received a near death sentence when he was only 13 years old. The healthy teenager developed a high fever that wouldn’t break. He was soon bedridden and he lost the ability to walk or stand. His doctors in Jonesboro prepared his parents for the worst, he told Talk Business & Politics.
“They said they’d done everything they could do for me. If my symptoms kept progressing the way they were progressing, there was no hope,” he said.
Then he caught a break. A new research hospital, St. Jude’s in Memphis had just opened. On April 23, 1962, the nearly lifeless Tosh was carried through the front doors. He was the 17th patient to receive treatment at the new facility.
The diagnosis was grim. He had childhood Hodgkin lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer, that in 1962 was fatal for many. In the United States alone, 6,000 to 7,000 cases of Hodgkin lymphoma are diagnosed annually. The current cure rate is between 90-95% for children.
Tosh was honored by the hospital recently as a 60-year cancer survivor.
“I’m grateful for the opportunities I have had,” Tosh said. “I never want to get so busy that I forget why I’m able to live the life that I’m able to live. If there is anything I can do to prevent some mom or dad from having to say goodbye to their child, then I stand ready to do that.”
In 2007, Tosh became the first patient to enroll in St. Jude LIFE, an unprecedented research effort that studies the health of more than 5,000 St. Jude survivors in an effort to assist the way clinicians understand the late effects of cancer and treatment. The goal of St. Jude LIFE is to improve the quality of life for survivors and inform future advances in treatment.
“I said I would do anything they asked me to do. If I could help even one set of parents to not have to go through the loss of a child It would be worth it to me,” he said.
Tosh was first elected to the Arkansas Legislature in 2014 from House District 52. During his professional career, he worked as a state trooper with the Arkansas State Police. He retired as a captain and a troop commander.
Before the cancer, Tosh was a starter on his school basketball team and a catcher on his baseball team. During his cancer recovery, he had to relearn how to walk. He never played basketball again, but by his senior year he was able to play baseball.
Tosh recently visited the hospital. St. Jude president and CEO James R. Downing presented Tosh with a pin during a special campus visit.
“In the fight against childhood cancer and other deadly illnesses, we honor every advance against the diseases that claim young lives,” said Downing. “Whether a discovery in the lab or a patient achieving remission, each victory moves us closer to the day when no child dies in the dawn of life. Dwight Tosh’s 60-year milestone of surviving pediatric cancer is especially rewarding. His journey from childhood cancer treatment in 1962 to proud father of two and grandfather of four continues to inspire us.”
Tosh spoke to the board of directors during his visit. He told them it was surreal for him to be there talking after all of these years.
“Imagine if I told you that I was in a bed not far from here clinging to life 60 years ago … and someone came into my room and told me during my darkest hour when I was barely clinging to life that I would return here 60 years later to speak to you,” he said to the board. “I’m a living testament to the work St. Jude’s does. I think the only person who would have believed this story was possible is my mom.”