By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
Triton Fritz is one tough editor. The 11-year-old wants to get this book just right.
In some ways, it’s the story of his life. In others, his legacy.
Just over one week ago, the Hudson boy went into hospice care. After five years of fighting cancer, his body has thrown in the towel.
He’s had more than a dozen surgeries and at least three rounds of radiation treatments which are now no longer are helping. Doctors have exhausted all their avenues to get his rare Rhabdomyosarcoma under control. There’s no cure to this type of replicating cancer cells that seemed to come back every December.
But this year was different. Triton’s family is preparing to say goodbye to the fighter who has literally given it his all.
The Brave Adventures of Triton Tough
Of the seven children in the country who have been diagnosed with his particular type of cancer, only two are still alive. Him, identified in medical literature as No. 4, and No. 7. The disease is so rare that its victims are identified by numbers.
The book commanding Triton’s attention, “The Brave Adventures of Triton Tough: A Graphic Novel for Cancer Warriors,” is his story. Not so much to immortalize his life as to provide a resource for other children and families.
The idea for the book, according to Triton’s mother Jessica, started germinating five years ago when Triton was first diagnosed with cancer. At that time, the choices of books dealing with childhood cancer were pretty limited, she said. Either they were too scientific and boring or too patronizing to children.
Triton wanted to share the reality of his experience in way that was much less boring but nonetheless realistic. Luckily for him, he comes from a talented family.
His aunt Jackie Dorothy, an author, wrote the book with his other aunt Julia Dorothy providing the illustrations. All material came either directly from Triton or from Julia’s visits to the hospital and doctors’ offices with Triton. They chose the graphic novel format to appeal to all ages.
After its completion, the book underwent several edits which Triton finally signed off on, just in time to see its publication.
Focus on Blessings
Right now, Triton is sleeping pretty much all the time, Jessica said, waking up just long enough to sign the stack of books his aunt left for him.
The family is taking consolation in the fact that Triton got to hold a copy of the book in his hand before he dies.
It’s a small consolation, Jessica noted, but at this point, they’ll take what they can get. She and the family are focusing on the blessings.
Among those are the fact that Triton’s illness brought them all together as a family at a time in their lives when they were coming and going, all busy with their own individual lives.
Triton’s father Daniel had been going to school and working several jobs trying to become a journeyman electrician. Jessica, meanwhile, had been putting in long hours and lots of overtime at her job at a casino to try to save money to open her own bakery.
His siblings, older brother Titus, younger brother Derek and sister Emma, had been busy with their own activities in school.
When Triton was diagnosed with cancer at age 6, the family dropped everything and coalesced around the shared mission of saving his life.
When his cancer continued to get worse – save for periods of respite provided by a few operations along the way – the family decided to take the bull by the horns and go enjoy life.
This meant a trip to Disneyland in which Triton rode his first roller coaster. Prior to that experience, he’d been too timid to risk it. After that first ride, however, he was hooked.
This past summer he even went on a zipline, which shocked his mother and encouraged younger brother Derek to also give it a try. Jessica had a hard time recognizing her son in that moment. Prior to these outings, he’d been more of a homebody. Now, he was intent on living big.
What’s the worst thing that could happen to him? He could die, Triton joked.
It was a somewhat morbid message, Jessica admitted, but realistically, he’d earned the right to say it.
Sometimes laughter – dark humor and all – is all you get.
Laugh. Live. Be Kind
This is Triton’s message to the world, Jessica said. Laugh. Live. Be kind.
“He’s not concerned with the world remembering him,” Jessica said, “but he wants people to know what truly matters.”
He’s seen parents and families taking the grief of their children’s illness out on each other in screaming matches outside hospital rooms and emergency rooms. He’s seen those same families wringing their hands in grief at their loss.
These encounters, as well as his own experience, have given Triton a sense of empathy he likely would otherwise never have, she said. She recounted the time that Triton watched a young girl come unglued when it was time to get her “ink tattoos,” marks injected in the skin for radiography.
She was inconsolable that the doctor wanted to stab her with pins until Triton walked over and lifted up his shirt to show his own marks on his stomach.
“You know what,” he told her, “the tattoos are super cool.”
Hearing this from someone her own age did the trick. She acquiesced, and the next time Triton saw her, she came over to show off her own marks.
It makes a big difference when children can share their experiences and help one another, Jessica said, which is exactly the purpose of Triton’s book. When enough money has been made from sales, Triton has asked his parents and aunts to use the proceeds to print more copies and donate them to doctors’ offices and hospitals all over the country.
Books were Triton’s saving grace on many occasions, Jessica said, and he’s hoping to share as many as he can with other children and families.
Life Isn’t Fair
For now, the family has gone from taking life one day at a time to taking it one moment at a time as they relish their final hours with Triton, appreciating the fact that their little boy is no longer in the extreme pain he suffered at various times throughout his years of fighting cancer.
For the family, Triton is the little hero who continues to inspire them with his good will.
Starting with his little brother. Jessica recently overheard Derek telling Triton that he wished it was him who had cancer and was sick to which Triton replied, he’s not. He was glad it was him because he’s older.
He’s ready, he told his family, and likes thinking about all the people who have written him letters and reached out in other ways, such as Pastor Philip Taylor, who drove from Texas to pray with Triton, only to learn after his return to Texas that he had cancer. He died six months later.
Life isn’t fair, as Triton’s parents have explained to him. He understands this better than most people and the only thing to do under those circumstances is to be the best you can. Both he and his parents can rest assured that they’ve literally tried everything to stop his cancer and he’s fought it like a champ, living up to his name as the Greek god of the sea.
Now, he’d like to share his message with others: don’t be afraid of trying something new because it will just hold you back, and live life to the fullest. Most of all, laugh and be kind to one another, especially your family.
To purchase the book, click here.