CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — The cancerous brain tumor that Ben Doyle figured out was raging in his head by reading Internet sites was formally diagnosed just a few months before he accomplished the rarest of bowling, or life, feats — achieving perfection.
Doyle so swiftly transformed from a guy terrified he was going to die to one rolling a 300 game the temptation is to call it dizzying. Except Doyle was already dizzy from the brutal headaches stemming from his illness.
The two dates may not be tattooed on his arm, but they are imprinted on his mind. July 30, 2011: Diagnosis. December 12, 2011: Perfect game. Doyle will never forget either one.
With health and bowling on an upswing, the 18-year-old Natrona County High School senior speaks about his triumph and near-tragedy with a gentle serenity. He has accepted that he can never play contact sports, but that he can excel at his favorite one.
He copes with the reality that a shunt inserted into his head (to facilitate a tube draining fluid from his brain that exits through his stomach) will be a companion “probably for the rest of my life.”
That is a phrase especially sweet for Doyle because that “rest” is not measured by a short number of months, but spreads before him as open as the prairie.
“I keep a positive attitude,” Doyle said. “I love my life.”
The Bowling Industry News estimates that 70 million Americans bowl at least once a year and the Doyle family is counted. Parents and six of seven children bowl.
Debbie, Ben mother, and his father Tom, the county treasurer, and their families, bowled when they were growing up, so it was natural for Ben to begin bowling at age 4, too.
Doyle’s home alley is El Marko Lanes and operator Van Galloway said he has known Ben “since before he was born.” That’s because Galloway remembers when Debbie played in junior leagues.
Doyle practices after school. He plays in a high school league Mondays and a travel league Sundays. How often does Doyle play?
“Let’s see,” Galloway said, “how many days are there in a week?”
Dressed in blue jeans and a purple Colorado Rockies T-shirt, Doyle practiced alone on lane 24, the end of the row. He keeps six, 14-pound, variously colored balls stored at El Marko. They are packed in a large leather bag much like a suitcase on wheels. The ball bag might fit into the overhead compartment, but it would be a nuisance to transport to the lanes daily.
It may take Doyle a while to get into his rhythm, but there is no mystery about his routine. Ball choice may change because of lane conditions, but he takes a five-step approach, cocks the ball in front of his chest, swings his right arm back and kicks back his right leg as he lets fly.
Ideally, the ball rolls smoothly down the 60-foot lane and explodes just right to splatter all 10 pins. Doyle wears a wrist holster to keep his arm stiff. It helps maintain form, something that could flag with fatigue. Standing 5-foot-8, with a somewhat stocky build, a roundish face, closely cropped dark hair and thick glasses, Doyle is stronger than he was, but he wears down quickly, byproducts of his illness and treatments.
“I get tired very easily,” he said.
Doyle used to play football, baseball and basketball. Headaches mysteriously began tormenting him in ninth grade and Doyle was 15 when he showed up for his Natrona sports physical. Measured at only 5-2, the same height as he had been for two years, the doctor was suspicious and additionally concerned upon hearing about the splitting headaches.
For two months Doyle had done his own research. Periodically, he told his parents, “I think I have a brain tumor.” They responded, “Oh, no, stop it.”
Later, his mother said, “You wouldn’t want to believe it. I just thought he was overreacting.”
On that dismal July day after being sent for an MRI, Doyle was proven alarmingly correct. He was whisked to Denver’s Children’s Hospital for a biopsy that showed a golf-ball-sized tumor was growing on his pituitary gland at the base of his brain — a glioma brain tumor.
Doyle freaked out.
“Oh, my gosh,” he said. “I was very scared. I just didn’t know what to think. It was, ‘Oh, man, my life’s over.’ It was like a dream.”
A very bad dream. Doyle, who turned 16 in the hospital, was given a choice of treatments, what he termed “hard-core chemo” for 54 weeks, or six weeks of intense radiation, his preference.
Students at Natrona rallied, raising money that contributed to a Make A Wish Foundation trip to Las Vegas for Doyle and his family. In Nevada Doyle hung out with Sean Rash, his favorite Professional Bowlers Association competitor. They bowled a little, and Rash gave him a jersey and an autographed pin. They stay in touch.
“His whole family was there,” said Rash, an athlete known for giving back. “We took lots of pictures. He was battling things we shouldn’t have to face. He will send me an email out of the blue. I keep the door open through social media.”
Doyle is as much a fan of Rash as some guys are of swimsuit model Kate Upton.
The 300 game that helped make Doyle famous in Wyoming bowling circles was rolled at El Marko Lanes. What a scene it was. Strike after strike, Doyle made those pins explode as if dynamite was detonated. By the 10th frame, with a triple turkey registered through nine, the whole alley was focused on Doyle.
His “Three Dukes and A Chick” travel team froze. Mom was there. As the tension and pressure built, long-time teammate Landon Rodabaugh said, “I knew we had to keep him calm. We were actually singing songs.”
The first strike of the 10th frame went up on the board. The second strike followed.
“The third strike was a lucky strike,” Doyle said. “It was kind of slow. It was the longest 1 or 2 seconds of my life.”
The five pin wobbled and toppled. Doyle threw his hands in the air and said, “Great!” A hundred people yelled and whooped. The news spread like a wildfire in Yellowstone.
“The texts came in,” Debbie Doyle said. “I was so proud of him.”
Once the score was verified by the U.S. Bowling Congress, Doyle received a 300 ring, and he obtained a printout of the score sheet. Doyle became one of the youngest bowlers in Wyoming history to roll a 300 game.
The perfect game was a gift. Most bowlers will never sniff a 300 game. It was almost like payback to Doyle for all he endured.
Only he wasn’t done suffering. The cancer returned in 2012.
“The tumor was growing again,” Doyle said.
This time treatment involved low doses of chemo. Then in January of 2013 the horrible headaches recurred.
“The headaches were so bad I had to have a bucket in my lap I was puking so bad,” Doyle said.
Doctors made an incision in Doyle’s head so a tube can drain fluid.
“They consider it a dead tumor,” he said.
Still, Doyle must undergo MRIs every three months.
“The last two have been pretty good,” Debbie Doyle said. “He’s just been amazing with it. He’s an amazing kid.”
Doyle flat-out decided not to let a little thing like a brain tumor interrupt his life. By bowling in high-profile junior tournaments, he was recruited to bowl for Midland University in Fremont, Neb., starting next fall.
After graduating he hopes to work in marketing at U.S. Bowling Congress headquarters in Arlington, Texas. Why not? Doyle is a walking advertisement for the sport. He is popular at El Marko where everyone knows him and admires his skill.
“Bennie is the one who gives me good luck,” said Trevor Lewarchik, 26, an El Marko regular. “I love that kid.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com