Standing Strong Against Cancer

Young boy endures chemo treatment, beats disease

Story and photos by Craig Reed

“DAM strong!”

6-year-old Duke Magee endured chemotherapy and beat a rare form of cancer.

That was the favorite phrase of Duke Alvin Magee when asked how he was doing during his treatment for Ewing sarcoma, a rare cancer occuring in bones or the soft tissue around bones.

Duke was 3 years old when a lump on the outside of his right knee became noticeable. After several doctor visits and scans, he was diagnosed with cancer at 5½.

About halfway through his eight months of chemotherapy treatment, the golf-ball-sized cancerous tumor was surgically removed.

Duke’s chemo treatments ended in June, not long after he turned 6. Duke is a boy of few words.

“I’m not scared. They treated me good,” he says of the medical staff that treated him on his numerous visits to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. “I didn’t like the hospital food.”

Duke is the son of Quintin and Leah, residents of the Rice Valley area. Quintin is the owner/operator of a log truck. Leah is a stay-at-home mom with Duke and his younger sister, Lola.

“Duke has been strong through his whole process, DAM strong,” Quintin says. “We’ve preached that. He’s gotten a lot of good vibes from everybody, super-positive support.”

“Duke’s attitude through it all has made us stronger,” Leah says.

A highlight for Duke during his ordeal was a surprise truck parade last October organized by family friends and truckers Darin Hammons and Brandon Foote. About 20 log trucks and rigs left Drain and rolled along Rice Valley Road to the Magee residence.

6-year-old cancer survivor Duke Alvin Magee stands alongside a tractor gifted to him during his chemotherapy recovery.

Sitting on a flatbed trailer was a rustic tractor, a gift to Duke from the Kestersons, his extended family on Quintin’s side of the family. Duke previously enjoyed climbing on the tractor while it sat on the Kestersons’ Big K Ranch.

“It’s cool,” Duke says. Leah was overwhelmed by the parade turnout.

“It blew me away,” she says. “You always wonder if you’re liked in your community. But then, when something like this happens and people are coming out of the woodwork with support, prayers, money, helping pay the bills—it’s incredibly overwhelming in the best way possible. There’s really not words for it, but it has made it all easier to bear.”

Duke’s ordeal began when the bump on his knee was X-rayed three years ago. At the time, the Magees were told not to worry about it as long as it didn’t bother Duke or cause pain. But about 2 years later, the bump was getting larger. Another X-ray was taken in August 2021. A week later, an MRI was performed, followed by a trip to Doernbecher a few weeks after for a biopsy.

“Before Duke woke up from the biopsy, the surgeon took me in a small room, sat me down and said he was concerned it looked like some kind of cancer,” Leah says. “He didn’t know what kind yet but said Duke would need chemotherapy.” Leah and Quintin say it was a scary time.

“It was pure hell,” Leah says. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with.” A week later, Leah received a call with the lab results.

“I had been trying to stay optimistic for the sake of my sanity,” Leah says. “Cancer hadn’t been confirmed yet, but when I got the call, I broke out. I was very emotional. But then I realized I had to try to pull it together so I could understand the information in order to tell the family. The doctor was very understanding and compassionate.”

Leah and Quintin kept medical talk to a minimum in front of Duke to avoid overwhelming him. They explained he would have to make many visits to the hospital in Portland, and treatment could make him sick.

Duke received his first chemo treatment October 13, 2021. He was on a schedule of 2 days of treatment, about 10 days off depending on his blood counts, then five days of treatment. It was supposed to be a 6-month treatment plan, but a staph infection and a positive COVID-19 test delayed some treatments and extended the plan to eight months.

Duke spent Christmas Day in a room at Doernbecher. Leah decked the room out “like crazy, making it as normal and as fun as possible,” she says.

A banner displayed during a parade thrown in Duke’s honor includes Duke’s go-to reply when asked how he was doing during his cancer treatments: DAM strong.

For that one day, Quintin was allowed to join his son and wife in the room. Santa Claus also visited Duke.

Duke’s last chemo treatment was June 1. A scan June 10 showed he was clear of cancer cells.

“Duke took it all in stride,” Leah says.

Doernbecher provided a tutor when Duke had extended stays in the hospital. Oakland School District provided a tutor as needed when Duke was back home.

Leah says she expected her son to feel terrible, throwing up and being a zombie on the couch.

“But I can count on both hands the number of days he woke up, had a little bit of nausea, threw up and then was ready to play or do something,” she says.

Duke will be checked every three months for the first year. If he continues to be cancer-free, checkup times will be less frequent.

“He was very strong,” Quintin says. “When people asked, he said, ‘I’m DAM strong!’”