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Holland regaining health, returns to school

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Teenager still chipping away at bucket list

By Marty Finley

Andrew Holland jumps up from his booth at the Radcliff Burger King and points nonchalantly at his sneakers — different colors, purposely mismatched.

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“Wear two shoes from now on,” he says casually. “I’m starting a trend.”

His mother, Regina Hensley, dismisses the comment as another one of her son’s humorous antics, saying it was nothing more than an accident that gained an audience among his friends.

Andrew, 16, is a reed-thin youth equal parts showman and inspiration, viewing a 2011 cancer diagnosis as a reason to tackle his dreams rather than an excuse to wallow in self-pity.

In fact, Hensley said, Andrew rarely has — if ever — felt sorry for himself despite intense bouts of deteriorating health and lengthy hospital stays.

“It’s like having the flu to him now,” she said.

After successfully wading through a risky bone marrow transplant earlier this year, Holland has returned home and regained much of his health. Instead of body-battering rounds of radiation and chemotherapy to combat Ewing’s Sarcoma in the brain and spine, he uses medication to keep most of his symptoms reined in. Doctors have seen a noticeable decrease in his tumors, which indicates the transplant was successful in slowing the cancer’s progress, Hensley said.

Holland has shrugged off expectations he would be unable to venture out into public or attend high school so quickly after the transplant. He enrolled at North Hardin High School this year and, heading into this week’s fall break, had finished his first full week. He had been attending half days to gradually acclimate himself back to an academic environment, but his mother anticipates he will be ready for a full schedule after the holiday season.

Holland said it is exhilarating to be back in a social setting with his friends where he can interact — and create.

His favorite class is video editing. An aspiring filmmaker, he toured Hollywood director James Cameron’s office during a trip to California last fall and is putting his movie-making skills to the test by directing a documentary for the class about the legalization of marijuana. He said the 40-minute to 1-hour film will seek to address the medicinal and recreational uses of marijuana through an educational lens.

Andrew thought the project was a bust after his doctors declined to be interviewed about the medicinal benefits of marijuana, but he has found a biology teacher willing to weigh in. Holland also has reached out to State House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, in hopes he may share his thoughts from a legislative standpoint.

Furthermore, he said he likely will poll students at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College to get their take on the controversial topic.

“I love filmmaking,” he said. “If I’m going to do something, I don’t want to go halfway on it.”

Andrew also is compiling hours doing shoots for high school sports in hopes of winning a trip to New York City. He needs around 75 hours to qualify, he said.

Hensley said she is currently looking for a day job near North Hardin to aid her son, who will be required to shoot some night games. She works third shift.

“I don’t want my job interfering with his dream — and I’m crabby,” she said.

“I plead the fifth,” he said in response.

Andrew has earned the respect of numerous notable figures for his courageous battle with cancer. He was chosen as junior mayor of Radcliff by Mayor J.J. Duvall and secured tickets to the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” in Los Angeles after DeGeneres personally reached out to him.

DeGeneres was the Mount Everest of Andrew’s bucket list, but other ventures remain. He held a lavish birthday party at the Hard Rock Café in Louisville earlier this year, acquired a tattoo and went ziplining. He also has obtained a driver’s permit.

He still wants to sky dive, but his mother fears the ramifications of such a feat.

“Skydiving is out,” she said. “The landing would just hurt him too much.”

The duo also has relocated to Shepherdsville from a trailer they resided in close to Colesburg because the structure was full of mold. The change of scenery has benefited both of them.

Despite the drive, Hensley has committed to North Hardin because it is where he wants to be and where his friends are, she said.

“If I’d have known 2 1/2 years ago the transplant would have done such a good job, I would have pushed for it then,” she said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.