CINCINNATI -- Looking at him, you’d never be able to tell 17-year-old Kayne Finley has cancer.
He still surfs, he still swims and he still plays volleyball (though he says he can’t block like he used to).
The high school senior was diagnosed with stage four Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG), a highly aggressive, inoperable form of brain cancer.
A Northern Kentucky native, Kayne returned to the area Sunday to continue treatment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and he received quite the welcome from Kentucky State Police.
Kayne’s father, Curtis Finley, was a trooper with Kentucky State Police for 16 years before the family moved to Florida. When Kayne’s plane landed, he was met with hugs and warm words from a dozen Kentucky State troopers.
“I can’t even hug you anymore, you’re too tall,” a trooper said as he embraced Kayne.
Trooper David Jones said supporting his “family” is part of his responsibility as a member of Kentucky State Police.
“The Kentucky State Police is not just an agency, we’re all a big family,” Jones said. “Anytime one of our family members has a difficulty in their life, we want to get out there and support them as much as we can.”
Kayne was diagnosed in November after he couldn’t close his left eye or smile on the left side of his face, and he’s been fighting ever since. He began six weeks of radiation therapy less than a month after his diagnosis.
Kayne said he has learned to appreciate small improvements since he's been in treatment.
“Some people would have maybe taken it a little more harsh … I’ve just learned that feeling better, every time I see or notice that I’m getting better, it’s great. I was thinking a few days ago, when I started radiation treatment, I couldn’t walk up the stairs by myself, or I was going step by step. But now, I’ll try to two-step it or go a little faster, so it’s nice to have that improvement."
Curtis said his son’s strength has been evident since he was diagnosed, and it has continued to grow throughout his treatment.
“The hardest thing going through my mind during all of this was how he was having to process what he was,” Curtis said. “The strength that he had, it surprised me to see how strong he was. I don’t know if I could’ve been that strong … it’s really amazing to see how strong he was, and it actually bled over to us to help us be strong for him.”
Kayne’s mother, Kirsten Finley, said the diagnosis itself was not the worst part.
“Once we learned that it was the DIPG … it’s not operable,” she said. “And then you find out that, number one they can’t do surgery … and you start figuring out that there’s no funding for anything beyond radiation, and you learn that your kid’s in a palliative care situation from the get go, and it’s like, how does this happen.”
The 17-year-old’s diagnosis is eerily similar to the story of Tri-State hero Lauren Hill, who, like Kayne, was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer her senior year of high school. Despite her illness, Lauren fulfilled her dream of playing college basketball for Mount St. Joseph and helped raise $2.2 million dollars for pediatric cancer research.
Kirsten said she has talked to Lauren’s mom, Lisa, about the need for more funding for pediatric cancers, particularly DIPG.
“Since Lauren was diagnosed, there have been some strides made, but we can’t call them great strides. Not yet,” Kirsten said.
Kayne said he relates to Lauren, and not just because of their shared diagnosis.
“I did look up a lot about Lauren Hill recently, and I found out I’m going to have the same doctor as her,” Kayne said. “But I was actually thinking about kind of being almost in the same boat as her, not only because now I’m in Cincinnati … but because we kind of reacted the same way to it.
“She wanted to spread the awareness and fundraising, and I want to do the same thing.”
Even Kayne’s spirit is similar to Lauren’s. His face lit up as he talked about swimming in two races Saturday.
“I did the 100 free, which I did better than I thought I would, but of course I’ve still got work to do,” he said.
Kayne started swimming at just 4 years old, and he began swimming competitively at the age of 7. Growing up in Northern Kentucky, he swam for the Northern Kentucky Clippers and the Florence Hammerheads. He also swam at his high school, Spruce Creek in Florida, and he hasn’t stopped since his diagnosis. He still swims on his own once a week, he said.
Kayne’s love for the sport prompted the viral movement #cannonballsforkayne, and hundreds of people have taken the plunge and posted videos to show support and help raise awareness for DIPG.
“Some of the colleges did it, soccer players did it -- just kind of their own variation -- cheerleaders, basketball, volleyball and then my school,” Kayne said.
Before coming to Cincinnati Sunday, Kayne guest-starred in a Facebook video with Chris Ulmer, the founder of Special Books by Special Kids, an organization that seeks to “normalize the human condition.”
“I’m not going to stop believing in God, I’m not going to stop the faith and I’m not going to stop the positivity that’s surrounding me and other people,” Kayne said in the video.
Kayne begins the clinical trial portion of his treatment Monday at Children’s, where he will take ribociclib, a drug that inhibits proteins and will hopefully stop his tumor from progressing.
Kirsten said Kayne has been her strength in all of this.
“The words that he says, the things that he thinks about, the ways that he communicates with people is inspiring. He helps me everyday get through the days,” she said.
Click here to donate to Kayne's recovery fund.