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Gazette Premium Content Local teen beats cancer, college entrance exams

CAROL MCGRAW Updated: September 9, 2011 at 12:00 am

Getting perfect or near perfect scores on the Scholastic Assessment Tests is pretty rare.
It would seem even harder if the student had cancer and was undergoing treatment far from home.



That’s what happened to Shane Leonard, a 17-year-old Rampart High School senior who got a perfect 800 in the writing portion of the general reasoning test, plus a 760 in math, and 760 in reading, for a total of 2320 out of 2400 possible points.

In the rigorous subject tests, he got a perfect 800 score on the math level 2, 770 in chemistry , and 790 in physics.

“It’s rare. Most kids are testing in the 500 or 600 range on the individual tests,” explained Andrea Lucero, a counselor for Rampart’s International Baccalaureate program.

Last spring, Shane was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a cancer usually found in older adults. His mother Faith Leonard, a math tutor at Will Rogers Elementary School,  said that for two years it went undiagnosed by local doctors, who thought it was merely swollen glands.

She sought out a specialist in April and a biopsy indicated he had a  cancerous tumor in the salivary gland. Shane had surgery in Denver in May to remove the cancerous tumor and 11 lymph nodes, which were not cancerous.

He required a special type of radiation treatment, using protons that would zero in on the area, unlike regular radiation therapy which would be more dispersed in the sensitive neck region. The  MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center at University of Texas in Houston was recommended.

And through it all, he kept studying.

His entire family – including Faith, and his three younger brothers and grandmother Judith Benton, packed up as soon as school was out, and settled in a residence hotel in Houston. His father Bill Leonard, a facilities engineer, visited often.

Shane underwent the proton treatments 30 minutes each day for seven weeks.

He had been studying for his college admissions tests since January and had taken the general SAT reasoning test in May, which  includes writing, critical reading and mathematics. Those assessments reflect how well a student analyzes and solves problems, an indicator of college success.

But he had not taken the subject tests, which assess more specific qualifications of students applying to highly competitive universities.

He continued studying at the hotel. “It wasn’t exactly quiet. We had an upstairs and downstairs area, and I’d take my computer and go in a corner. I read a whole lot of science books just for recreation when I was feeling bad,” he said.

He felt he knew the material, but studying helped him focus and forget about the medical ordeal, including the painful burning in his throat, the bland food and the emotional stress.

“I had moments when I was upset, but it never pervaded my outlook.” He talked to his parents in those down times. “We cried a little and got it out,” he said.

It strengthened his Christian faith, too. “I had to go through in my mind, questioning  things. Finally, I prayed for  peace because everything was so stressful. And I got that feeling of peace and it didn’t leave me.”

He took the SAT tests at a Houston high school and is humble about his success.

“I’d been studying for a long time. The math stuff is easy for me and the science was pretty easy because I’m interested in it and it doesn’t feel like its difficult. Reading and writing, I had to focus more,” Shane said.

While at the clinic a physicist took him under his wing, letting him shadow him for a day.

Since then they have exchanged emails, with the doctor sending him articles  that relate to the senior essay Shane is writing on “Luminescent Reactions.”

Lucero, his counselor, notes that when she first met him as a freshman, she had to figure out how to place him in senior classes because he was so advanced in math. “He was already doing Advanced Placement calculus and statistics.”

She was devastated about  his diagnosis. “But  his response was so like Shane. He said he got it so he could cure it. That  is his mindset, so positive about everything.”

His prognosis is very good, doctors say.

Faith Leonard said her son had a good attitude through it all. “I’m so proud of him, academically and how he got through everything. He’s healthy and happy and having a normal senior year.”

At Rampart, Shane is active in clubs and sports, and volunteer work.
 
While he isn’t able yet to rejoin the cross country team, he’s doing some running and biking on his own. He plays violin for the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony and is excited about the group’s planned trip next spring to Bulgaria.

His top choice for college is Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But while in Houston he visited Rice University.

“I like that school, too. Math and science and engineering. That’s my plan for the future.”

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