3 years ago
Saara Raja
Staff Writer

In November 2012, Rick Smith received shattering news that no parent wants to hear. His son, Richie, had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Smith, a UTD alumnus with a master’s degree in computer science, said he had noticed a change in his son’s tumor, which had been benign based on the symptoms present.

“I actually, when I first heard that it was (malignant), kind of knew it before they said it,” Smith said.

However, despite any prior suspicions, Smith said the defining moment in which the diagnosis was confirmed was a shot to the belly. It knocked the wind out of him, he said.

This year, the UTD community has been helping Richie’s cause. Each year, UTD hosts Dance 4 A Cause, and the proceeds go to different charities.

Since last year, a portion of the money raised in the annual event has gone toward the Smith family to help pay for Richie’s medical expenses.

Coordinator of Fitness for Recreational Sports Holly Worrell was instrumental to having Richie’s cause supported by UTD’s Dance 4 A Cause, Smith said.

“This year and last year she wanted to do something for Richie, so she did whatever she had to do at UTD to make that happen,” he said.   

This year’s show, which took place on Nov. 15, featured many campus dance groups and performers, including Richie’s sister, Alexis, a dancer and neuroscience graduate student.

Richie also had his own music performance during intermission, featuring him singing with a friend who assisted him on the guitar.

For Richie, the entire journey began four years ago at age 16 when a test he took at an eye clinic suggested that something might be wrong.

“I went to get an eye prescription for some glasses … and they found that the whole left peripheral vision was gone,” Richie said.  “So, we got it checked out, and they found that the reason I don’t have left peripheral vision is because a tumor cuts out my peripheral vision.”

Upon further inspection, the Smiths found that Richie had two tumors. One of the tumors was in the middle of his brain, so surgeons could not remove it without causing damage. The other mass was also not easily accessible, so the suggested brain surgery for Richie was postponed by two years.

“They just said to wait on it because that one they said not to worry about — they said to keep watch on it,” Richie said. “I ended up having surgery two years ago, that was when symptoms started happening. My mom was the one who made me go to the hospital to get me checked out. She was smart; she caught it.”

Richie’s mom, Veronica, works at UTD as a yoga instructor. Richie’s brain surgery took place on her birthday two years ago. The symptoms that she detected in Richie were severely debilitating to the point where he could not go to school anymore.

“(I had) numbness in my left side. It was harder to walk. I was having double vision, a lot of nausea, a lot of migraines, a lot of sleeping; there’s a whole bunch,” he said.

Two years after the surgery, during which only one of the tumors was removed, Richie’s doctors delivered the news that the tumor in the center of the brain had become malignant. He was with his mother at the time. A deeply religious individual, Richie used his belief in God to comfort himself and his mother.

“I was with my mom that day and that moment, too, when they were there to tell us if it was malignant or benign. And I told my mom it was fine, there’s nothing to worry about and it’s going to be okay,” Richie said. “Actually, I’m Christian as per my religion, and I think God at that moment I knew it was going to be okay. It was great.”

There have been many lifestyle adjustments for the Smiths. The family doesn’t often leave Richie alone because of his condition, Smith said, even though he could probably stay on his own. Richie is not able to do many of the activities he wants to, he said.

Despite these struggles, Richie has a positive outlook on the changes he has had to make. He describes his diet as the most significant factor, saying that he is now eating healthier foods. Because the brain tumor was removed, Richie is now also having decreased movements on his left side.

“I used to do taekwondo, but I had to stop doing that for a while,” he said.

Throughout it all, Richie has managed to continue pursuing his passions. He is a music lover and a former violin player. Richie had to stop playing instruments because of his decreased mobility, but he still participates in music by deejaying.

“I have to do it with one hand,” Richie said. “I actually deejayed a UTD pool party for the freshmen.”

In support of his struggle, Richie’s friends created a Facebook page for him, titled “Prayers for Richie.” The page so far has 2,145 likes and documents his journey battling brain cancer with photos and events.

Richie’s outgoing personality and positive demeanor have gained him many well-wishers and supporters.

“(Richie) is very likeable; he’s like a magnet,” Smith said. “People want to be around him and like to be around him, and it’s fun to be around him.”

Ever since the initial diagnosis, Richie has been going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He is currently in a stable period, which his family hopes will continue.