Newport News 13-year-old tackles cancer with smile, positive attitude

Nazea Twiggs is still smiling and happy and being a kid.

The 13-year-old Denbigh resident's resilience is helping to carry his entire family through his treatment for cancer. Right around Thanksgiving Nazea was diagnosed with Osteocarcoma—a type of bone cancer that usually occurs in young people when their bones are growing rapidly.

Since then he has been on a schedule of chemotherapy treatments at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk and he underwent surgery Tuesday in Richmond to remove the tumor in his right knee and put in a prosthetic knee.

Cancer has also spread to Nazea's lungs, and he will undergo future surgery to remove it.

But his bright smile, soft voice and good manners hide well any discomfort he might be feeling.

"Hopefully after my surgery, it won't take too long for me to start walking again," Nazea said. "I don't like not walking and not moving around by myself."

Before he became sick Nazea was as active as any teenager. He is an honors student 7th grader at Passage Middle School, and enjoyed playing football for the Golden Saints and basketball for the family church of First Baptist Church Denbigh.

But persistent leg pain the last week of November landed him in the emergency room at Riverside Regional Medical Center, where he was quickly diagnosed with cancer, said his mother Darnella Beale.

The whirlwind of treatments, travel and special care that has followed has created an entirely different life for Nazea, his 18-year-old sister, his mother and father Stephan Twiggs.

They live by a thick Family Handbook provided by CHKD that outlines the schedule for Nazea's medicine, treatments and sanitized environment designed to minimize his contact with germs. Their living room now contains a hospital bed and bags of medical supplies.

Nazea is home-schooled two hours a day by a teacher, and doesn't go out much in order to avoid contact with potentially-dangerous infections. Masks for his face and hand sanitizer are always with him.

His father carries him up and down the stairs to use the shower each day, and Nazea sleeps and eats in fits and starts at all different times of the day and night.

"His hours are strange," Stephan Twiggs said. "We're living our lives on his terms right now. Our whole routine, our whole everything changed."

Both parents have taken unpaid leaves of absence from work to take care of him, and finances are an issue though Medicaid is covering all of Nazea's medical expenses, Darnella Beale said.

"I don't want to be away from Nazea no time," Stephan Twiggs said. "Whatever he's going through, I want to be there with him."

Through it all, Nazea has kept a positive attitude. He communicates with far-flung family and friends through a Facebook page called Team Nazea, which has grown from 30 or 40 members to around 1,600 and now counts total strangers among its followers.

"My Mom, my Dad, my family, my friends are praying for me," Nazea said. "They show me a lot of love and try to help me get through it."

Breaks from illness are few and far between.

"Sometimes I do some things, but most of the time I don't feel good," Nazea said. "A week ago they gave us tickets to go to the motorcycle ice racing and I couldn't go because I was feeling bad, so we ended up giving it to my Mom's friend.

"Basically sometimes we do fun things, and sometimes if I'm not feeling up to it we don't do it. We'll just see if we can do it after or some other time."