On his 17th birthday two years ago, Peter Srsich, a high school lacrosse player and devout Roman Catholic, saw his faith hit rock bottom while undergoing seven rounds of grueling chemotherapy and 21 days of radiation for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
"I was on the pain killer Dilaudid and was diagnosed with depression at the time," said Srsich, who was being treated at Children's Hospital in Aurora, Colo. "Things had kind of started to pile up, and I started questioning, why would this happen?"
But his faith returned when his friend brought the Eucharist to his hospital bed and the teen said he felt the uplifting presence of God.
His ordeal began just before the end of his junior year in high school, when he developed a cough. Then that summer, still suffering with the cough, he returned from a canoe trip to Minnesota and found himself overwhelmed with fatigue. It was "a different tired than I had ever felt before," he told ABCNews.com.
What at first looked like pneumonia, turned out to be a softball-sized mass on his left lung that was compressing his heart.
"It was so large, they couldn't put me under anesthesia because there was a risk I wouldn't wake up, so they couldn't even get a biopsy of it," Srsich said.
But today at 19, Srsich is in remission, again active in athletics at Regis University, a Jesuit college in Denver, and on the path to the priesthood.
He thanks his doctors for his physical recovery, but he credits his spiritual rebound to one of the most unusual and logistically complicated requests ever asked of the Make-A-Wish Foundation -- to meet the Pope.
|"The one good thing is in a young person who is healthy and strong, it's very curable. But the treatment is horrible because they use such intense drugs." -- Laura Srsich|
Last May, Srsich, his mother Laura and father Tom, and his then 15-year-old brother Johnny flew to Rome for a week where Pope Benedict blessed the teen, before resigning the following February.
This week, one Catholic blog jumped on Srsich's recovery story, calling his audience with the outgoing pope the reason for his "cancer cure." But Srsich laughed, saying he has faith in both God and science.
"I credit all the years of medical research and the training of all the doctors going to school -- all that definitely cured me," he said. "But God was behind it, helping me go through the treatment. Medical science is phenomenal. It would have been a death sentence 30 years ago, but in less than a year, I am back on my feet."
The teen's journey began with his diagnosis in July 2011. At first, doctors had no idea how to treat Srsich without triggering a heart attack. Then came the frightening diagnosis: stage four cancer.
"The one good thing is in a young person who is healthy and strong, it's very curable," said his mother, Laura Srsich, 50. "But the treatment is horrible because they use such intense drugs. He had seven rounds of chemotherapy in the course of six months."
Srsich missed nearly his entire senior year of high school but was able to attend the prom and was named homecoming king, even though he was completely bald.
One of his classmates, knowing Srsich was religious, created 1,200 lime green rubber wristbands: "Praying for Peter." The bands cited the teen's favorite Biblical passage, Romans 8:28 -- "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
The bands went round the world, according to his mother. "He had a huge amount of people praying for him."