Boy with cancer inspires family to start organic farm

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Eleven years ago, the Tyson family seemed to have it all. Nicole and Scott Tyson had just bought land in Sharpsburg, Georgia, to build their dream home. They envisioned starting a small farm, with a place for their kids to play.

Less than a month later, their world changed as they rushed their son Mason to the emergency room on his 4th birthday.

“We had felt the lump in his abdomen, which we later found out was a tumor,” Nicole said.

It was stage IV neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer that forms in nerve tissue.

“I think when any parent hears the word ‘cancer’ associated with their child, it’s gut-wrenching,” Scott said. “You don’t have any control. You feel no control.”

Doctors removed Mason’s tumor, but the cancer remained in his lymph nodes.

Next came weighing the options: The parents decided against chemotherapy, worried about side effects. They monitored the cancer with monthly scans and took a hard look at their lifestyle.

“We realized, first off, we’re living horribly as far as what we’re putting in our body, food-wise,” Scott said.

They switched to an organic diet that consisted mostly of food they grew themselves, despite a lack of farming experience.

“The biggest part was a side of meat, and the entrée would be the veggie,” Scott said. “Trying to eat a lot of raw stuff, juicing a lot.”

For a family used to eating “meat with a side of meat,” it was a drastic change.

“I remember very long nights where I was reluctant to drink juices or eat my vegetables,” Mason recalled.

In 2009, the Tysons began their nonprofit 180 Degree Farm, to donate their home-grown food to the public.

“When you spend time in a cancer center and you see all these babies up there that are sick,” Scott said, “if you’re not moved to do something, then I don’t know what it would take to make it happen.”

Every Tuesday, they go to Cancer Treatment Centers of America in nearby Newnan, Georgia. “We do a farmer’s market there so that we can provide food for the cancer patients,” Nicole said.

The food they produce is seasonal; in fall and winter, they’re growing ginger, turmeric, lettuce, spinach, collards, kale, kohlrabi, carrots, broccoli, beets and cauliflower. The market is donation-based, and there are always items available for free.

“We’re giving about 300 pounds or more of food a week just there, to the patients,” Scott said. “It’s been pretty remarkable.”

Today, Mason is cancer-free. His family — Scott, Nicole, Mason and 19-year-old Camron — credits the surgery and clean eating for his remission. Though there is no clinical research to verify the role of diet in his recovery, the 15-year-old aspiring chef is a firm believer.

“I want people to understand that a good diet, especially a clean one, is a necessity to life,” Mason said.

Meanwhile, the Tyson family continues to produce food for cancer patients’ bodies and inspiration for their souls.

Mason is “a beacon of hope, and that’s what we want to give these people,” Scott said. “There is hope.”

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