Blake Anderson, featured Sunday in a Gail Rosenblum column about his struggle with childhood leukemia and homelessness, died in his sleep early Monday.
His death was a shock even to those who knew that his prognosis was grim.
"I had no idea it was going to progress so rapidly," said Dr. Michael Richards, a pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital-Minneapolis who has treated Blake since his diagnosis with acute myelogenous leukemia in October of 2008.
"It's amazing the power of Blake's psyche," Richards said. "Patients get to a certain point where they say, 'I'm done...' He got progressively more fatigued, was having more pain. It was likely a combination of exhaustion and deciding he was done."
It certainly did not help that Blake, 17, and his mother, Michelle Anderson, 44, have spent much of the nightmarish past three-and-a-half years homeless -- hopping between couches, motels or the hospital.
Michelle and Blake were living with family members when he died. Blake had been sleeping on the floor on a foam mattress. Michelle knew they needed to move out, but she has been unable to work since becoming her son's full-time support system.
"When you're homeless with a chronic illness, it's just horrendous," Richards said. Risk of infection is elevated. It's difficult to stay on course with treatments. And the emotional toll of moving regularly can be devastating.
The high point of Blake's medical struggle may have been his many months at Children's during his intense chemotherapy treatment. "They viewed a lot of the staff as their family," Richards said, "and Children's as a second home."
Ed Murphy, founder of Minneapolis-based Hearts and Hands (www.heartsandhandsrcc.org), had been working with Blake and Michelle. His nonprofit provides non-medical support to low-income families whose child is facing a life-threatening illness.
By Monday, Murphy had received many offers of financial and housing support for the Andersons. He said that 100 percent of donations will be used to pay for Blake's funeral and to help Michelle get back on her feet.
"She has a long, tough road ahead," said Murphy, who also lost his only son to cancer in 1997. "It would be nice if she could get a stable place to live while she sorts everything out."
Checks can be sent to: Blake Anderson Fund c/o Hearts and Hands, 2608 Blaisdell Ave. S., Mpls, MN, 55408.
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350