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Chance Encounter

Before last month, Shane Drury and Bill Latham had never crossed paths. In the last several years, each has staged a war against cancer. Drury, a 27-year-old bull rider, has been fighting Ewing's Sarcoma, a cancer mostly found in children, since 2002. Three rounds of chemotherapy and radiation have done their best, but the disease returned last December with a vengeance, and Drury decided against further treatments.

That's where Latham enters the picture. A PRCA Gold Card member and former college national champion, Latham was told in April 2003 to enjoy the rest of his life — perhaps six months — on his Waco, Texas, ranch after he was diagnosed with stage four terminal colon cancer. He thanks the Mary Crowley Medical Research Center, located within the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, for cleansing his body of the dreaded disease. Today, he's back to roping, running his ranch and unknowingly serving as a motivational leader.

For Shane Drury.

Latham didn't intend to take this course. He was among a group of cowboys honored at the recently held College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo. Fifty years ago, he was on top of the college world. And when he was asked to give a speech on the accomplishment, he deviated from his biographical profile — figuring everybody knew his story by now — and spoke frankly about being grateful to be alive.

"The whole room was crying," Latham said. "I didn't do it for that reason. I got 100 phone calls from people who heard about it. They wanted to know about the program."

He heard from Drury, who was coincidentally in Casper the same weekend, presenting a scholarship in his name sponsored by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Drury didn't hear the speech, but Latham learned of the young bull rider's plight and they soon got together face to face.

"I asked him what his goals were," Latham said. "And he said 'I'd like to ride bulls again.' I asked him when the season starts, and he said January 1st. We'll have him on bulls."

So off Drury went, to Latham's house on the west side of Fort Worth. If Latham has his way, he'll see Drury fight off the cancer as Latham did from 2003-04. The way he sees it, everybody needs a little help, and if the Mary Crowley Medical Research Center can do it once, it can also work its magic on Drury.

"He talks pretty confident," Drury said about Latham. "He has a lot of faith in the doctors. We're going on what they say. All we can do is put all our eggs in one basket and take off. Hopefully, it works out."

This week, Drury is scheduled to begin his first three-week cycle to shrink tumors in each lung, for starters. The treatment is a mixture of docetaxel, a chemotherapy agent, and ARQ 501, an experimental therapy that has the benefit of sparing patients the debilitating side effects most commonly endured in fighting such a dreadful disease.

"I'm not looking too forward to it, but it's been pretty effective on this cancer," Drury said. "I've tried three basic chemos, and they didn't seem to do anything. Now if I come down here and try the experimental stuff and it can't help me, maybe it can help someone else."

The study is still an open book. The purpose of the experimental therapy, according to information found on the Research Center's web site, is to "determine the safety and tolerability of ARQ 501 in combination with docetaxel in patients with advanced or metastatic canter."

Doctors at the Mary Crowley Medical Research Center will analyze Drury's tests after the first cycle and then huddle for the next round based on the results. Latham, remembering where he's been and where he is today, excitedly looks forward to the day when Drury is declared cancer-free and on the back of a bull.

"If I can help Shane, that's wonderful," Latham said. "I don't have a doubt that they'll fix him, just like me. I'm tickled to death that they're going to save Shane's life. They're going to give him something they couldn't give him anywhere but here."

And all from a chance encounter in Casper.

Susan Kanode, the CNFR media coordinator, wanted to tell Drury's story and start a legacy before it was too late. So, with a lot of work and coordination with countless rodeo dignitaries, coaches and student athletes, she established the Shane Drury Scholarship. She invited Drury to personally award the scholarship, which he did on June 16, to Montana State University junior Jyme Peterson, who competes in goat tying and has battled back from two devastating injuries to her knee.

"I know how much education means to him," Kanode said. "Shane graduated and got a degree and wasn't just another college cowboy. His two brothers also graduated from college. I thought it would be a cool thing to do, to have a scholarship in his honor, and using his inspiring story to motivate other people."

With the motivation from Latham, perhaps Drury, who celebrated a birthday on June 29, will return to Casper to award the second Shane Drury Scholarship next June. And blow out an extra candle later that month, too.

"That's the goal," Drury said. "I don't have many choices left. What Susan did was pretty amazing and pretty special. I'd love to go back next year and do it again. Now, it's up to the doctors, I guess. They have a game plan on what they want to do and how they want to do it. Right now, there are a lot of questions I don't have answers to. Maybe I don't need to know the answers yet."

Such as, 'Why did Drury and Latham meet, now?'

Drury offered his best answer.

"I don't know, this deal just came up," Drury said. "Obviously, I met this guy for a reason. He was up there for the reunion of the 1956 champs, and I was up there for the scholarship presentation. It all seemed to fall into place."

Latham, who's also a builder, developer and insurance executive, gives the nod to cowboys when facing sometimes insurmountable odds.

"With Shane and I, we were stubborn enough to dish it out," he said. "We're cowboys."