Alex Carman is 100 percent boy.
The 8-year-old was constantly climbing, digging, swimming, playing — always moving.
Then, weeks went by before Alex could go outside. He was a patient at Toledo Children's Hospital, his window overlooking offices and a roof, as the weather warmed.
His mother worried how her vivacious son — her only child — would cope.
In the same hospital, Duncan Russell's brain kept churning.
The 10-year-old is a thinker — about science, and nature, and why things are the way they are, such as how corn is so explosive, more so than dynamite, and about the meaning of irony.
He quizzed nurses about medical equipment and asked why different nurses' routines altered slightly during their rounds.
At times this year the two Perrysburg boys, with such different personalities, stayed in the same six-bed wing at the children's hospital.
They share multiple connections.
The children — Duncan, a fourth grader, and Alex, a second grader — attend Woodland Elementary School in Perrysburg and live across the street from each other, off Eckel Junction Road. They are in the same Cub Scout pack, No. 110.
And they were diagnosed with cancer a month apart this year.
"It's doesn't seem possible," said their cubmaster, Tom Haar of Perrysburg. "It's hard to imagine one kid in the pack — but two? It's hard to comprehend."
Alex's parents tried to turn his leukemia into a new adventure, like when the chemotherapy turned his urine orange or blue.
"Check it out, dude!" said his mother, Tosha Carman, 40, a stay-at-home mom who volunteered at Woodland.
Around Easter, Alex's dirty-blond hair started falling out.
"You look like a baby chick," a nurse told him, looking at his peach-fuzz hair.
The cancer diagnosis had come swiftly, just after his eighth birthday on March 10.
He complained that his legs and chest hurt. His parents figured it was just growing pains until he developed a 103-degree fever, and they took him to the doctor for tests.
On March 14, Alex was in the hospital with more than 90 percent of the cells in his bone marrow cancerous.
He is recovering from his second round of chemotherapy, waiting for a third round before he gets a bone-marrow transplant.
The cancer diagnosis blindsided his parents, who were stunned that their healthy, active son was suddenly so sick.
Same happy self
But for the most part, Alex was still his same happy, feisty self.
The cancer didn't bother him, his mother said.
Alex was more impressed with the movable hospital bed and what he thought was free food delivered on trays.
He was taken aback when an adult referred to him as someone fighting cancer.
"I'm not fighting cancer," he told his mother after weeks spent in the hospital, reading about the Titanic and playing pretend office. "I'm just hanging out."
On a recent day, he laughed when he told a story about throwing up on his favorite nurse's arm.
Mrs. Carman doesn't want him to lose that feistiness, that strength which got him through medical procedures, chemotherapy, and two months away from his friends.
"That poor kid has fought since the day he was born," said Mrs. Carman, whose husband, Todd, 42, is a purchasing agent at the Lathrop Co. in Maumee.
‘Many people love him'
Their son, who was adopted, spent the first 21 months of his life in a Russian orphanage, in tight quarters with 15 other children.
"We pray every time he starts meds," Mrs. Carman said. "So many people love him so much, and he knows that. He knows God has a plan for him. God sent him on this journey."
Duncan sat on the edge of the tub in the hospital bathroom, his newly bald head in his hands. It was one of the rare times he showed he was upset, his mother realized when she went inside the hospital bathroom to check on him a few weeks ago.
His hair fell out in thick clumps on his pillow at night because of the cancer treatments. He and his parents matter-of-factly decided it was best to shave his head. Now, he felt self-conscious without his hair, hiding his scalp with hats his parents bought him.
But he wasn't alone, either.
About 20 or so leaders and Cub Scouts in Pack 110 shaved their heads too in mid-April during a gathering at Grace United Methodist Church.
Shaved heads for all
"We just wanted to make Alex and Duncan smile," said Mr. Haar, after learning of Duncan's cancer diagnosis in February.
How to Help
A fund-raiser for the Carman and Russell families is scheduled May 29 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Hero's, 9851 Meridian Ct., Rossford. All proceeds will go to the families. Cost is $10 a child, $25 a family maximum. Adults will be admitted free. Attractions are to include bouncing, carnival games, and carnival prizes.
Donations may be sent to Cub Scout Pack 110 at Grace United Methodist Church, 601 E. Boundary St., Perrysburg.
Just before Valentine's Day, Duncan had been eating dinner with his parents when they noticed a golf-ball-sized lump on the left side of his neck.
They thought it was mumps; doctors later believed it was a virus.
But the bumps — three of them, the family later learned — didn't disappear with antibiotics. Medical tests confirmed the three hard tumors were indeed lymphoma, an inoperable type of cancer.
The tumors alerted the Russells something was wrong right away, and the cancer was caught before it progressed further in Duncan's body.
Since the diagnosis, he has had morphine drips, sores inside his mouth and gastrointestinal system, tiredness, and five rounds of chemotherapy, which Duncan is expected to finish today.
He was at home resting last week.
Since February, he has spent two to three weeks of every month in the Toledo hospital.
His family saw the Carmans in passing, which helped both families take their minds off the illnesses for a few moments.
Already, Duncan was wiser than his years, with his hobbies of coin and stamp collecting and his fascination with knowledge.
But the cancer made him seem even more grown up. He rarely complained about the pain or got upset.
"He's manned up," said Rhonda Russell, 42, an information technology manager at a downtown Toledo law firm. "A lot of people can't believe he's 10."
Cancer changed his family's routine too.
On April 26, Duncan's brother Ian, who is in the same grade as Alex, celebrated his eighth birthday.
Ian spent the evening with both of his parents, something that was rare.
Mrs. Russell and her husband, Paul, often felt as if their lives were one big camping trip.
They switched back and forth at the hospital, sleeping on an air mattress in Duncan's hospital room.
They didn't want Ian to feel forgotten, so they planned a special trip to the water park just for him.
"Ian has been kind of pushed to the side," said Mr. Russell, 39, a children's mental health therapist at the Zepf Center. "Everybody is rallied around Duncan."
What has helped both the Russell and Carman families is the outpouring of support from their community.
At Woodland, teachers bought gift cards for meals at local restaurants, and students sent cards and care packages, said Principal Dan Creps.
The school nurse explained to both boys' classmates that they were sick and doctors were working to heal them, Mr. Creps added.
The Cub Scouts raised $1,000 for the two families, and church members, co-workers, and even strangers brought meals and care packages filled with toys and games.
A string of 30 paper leprechauns, with handwritten messages on them from his classmates, hung on Duncan's wall.
Several large posters displayed colorful get-well wishes.
"I think he was surprised to realize how many friends he had," Mr. Russell said.
Connected to school
Dressed in an orange Woodland T-shirt with a peace sign on it, Alex sat perfectly straight in front of the computer for his math lesson on a recent day.
Thanks to Skype and tutoring sessions, Duncan and Alex kept up with their schoolwork and hope to move on to the next grade in August. The technology allowed them to talk with and see their classes and even read their teachers' smart boards.
Using Skype gave them a glimpse of regular classroom life too.
Alex's teacher turned the video camera on a girl named Shelby who wore a fancy outfit to school that day. Alex clearly wasn't impressed.
"I don't see anything different," he scoffed at his computer screen. "It just has long sleeves."
Other times, he gave the other students a glimpse into his life at the hospital.
He once showed them the tubes strapped into his chest that give him medicine and the IV pole attached to it and explained about chemotherapy.
When math class was over, the classmates swarmed the video camera and told him good-bye in unison, in a sing-songy chorus.
"OK," Alex shot back. "I don't need that many good-byes!"
Contact Gabrielle Russon at: email@example.com or 419-724-6026.