DECATUR – Silas Martin has always been a big fan of food and a favorite pastime is watching The Food Network and other food-related shows.
He often told his mother, Gloria, that if he could ever get Adam Richman of “Man vs. Food,” broadcast over the Travel Channel, to come to Decatur, he'd make sure Richman tried Donnie's Homespun Pizza.
On Monday, both of those things happened, thanks to social media and a network of friends who support the Martin family in Silas' battle with brain cancer.
Alerted by a number of Silas' friends from Decatur Christian School, Northwest Christian Church and Facebook, Richman boarded a plane in Brooklyn and flew to St. Louis, rented a car and showed up at the Martins' front door late Monday morning.
“I'm so glad,” Richman said. “I wouldn't have known otherwise.”
Silas, 16, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004 at the age of 6. The tumor wrapped around his optic nerve, result in very low vision. He was born with Neurofibromatosis Type I, like his father and grandfather, and one symptom of that is also deteriorating vision and tumors.
After undergoing repeated rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries and, in 2010, even having his right temporal lobe and hippocampus removed to stop seizures, he was in remission and his family finally thought they could relax. But in 2013, symptoms returned and the Martins learned that Silas had a new tumor, a cancer so rare only three other cases are known. The rounds of hospital stays and treatments resumed, and Silas also suffered a stroke which impaired his mobility on the left side.
Last week, after more than two months in St. Louis Children's Hospital, doctors told the Martins there was nothing more they could do. The tumor is growing rapidly and it's only a matter of time now. Silas came home under hospice care and has been receiving a steady stream of visitors. Meeting Richman was a long-cherished wish.
His vision makes reading difficult, so his mom reads aloud to him and one of his favorites is Richman's book, “America the Edible.”
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“I'm so embarrassed,” Richman said to Silas. “Your mom told me you were glad the book wasn't 'G-rated.' I told my mom that and my mother is like, 'Can you believe another mother would say that?' All this language and stuff I put in that book.”
Silas' mind is built for details and he asked Richman very specific questions about the recipes in the book, right down to the exact size meant by a “large onion.” Richman told Silas stories about making his show, including some details that didn't make it to the final versions, and Donnie's co-owner Jennifer Dresen delivered lunch so that Richman could try the pizza that Silas had so hoped to share with him, though Silas was too fatigued by then to eat any himself.
Richman couldn't say enough about how much he admires Silas' courage and spirit. He read all the signs and posters from Silas' friends that are all over the walls of the Martin living room, and was especially intrigued by the black belt awards in jujutsu and karatejutsu delivered recently by Kevin Hughes, who taught martial arts to Silas and his close friend Blake Jenkins until Silas' health prevented him from continuing. Hughes told Silas he had earned the belt with his spiritual development. Richman in interested in martial arts, too.
He said finding out that Silas wanted to meet him humbled and honored him.
“There was this overwhelming support for him (on social media),” he said. “I have to cop to a little bit of disbelief because you make TV shows in a vacuum and you hope that people like them and find them entertaining and stuff, but you don't realize how much you can reach and touch people, so to think that someone was that affected by anything I did is kind of mind-boggling.”
One of the people who bombarded him with requests to visit Silas sent Richman Gloria Martin's cell number, and Richman called her to make the arrangements. During the visit, which lasted several hours, Silas' eyes never left Richman's face, and he exerted himself to stay awake and ask and answer questions. Interaction between them, and between Richman and Gloria Martin, was as relaxed as if they'd always known each other.
Gloria Martin said Silas is a fighter, but he's also sure of his eternal destination, and is not afraid.
“He's always told me he's healed,” she said. “He says 'This side or the other side.' He knows where he's going and he trusts in God.”