Motorcycle ride a dream come true for boy with brain cancer

Kevin Lytle, owner of the Gainesville Harley Davidson, gives a ride to eight-year-old cancer patient Marc Okes, left, and his mother, Sandi Okes, as they are joined by local law enforcement and local riders as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Monday, March 10, 2014 in Gainesville, Fla.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, March 10, 2014 at 7:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 10, 2014 at 7:50 p.m.

When Sandi Okes first approached Gainesville Harley-Davidson owner Kevin Lytle, her request was small. She just wanted a motorcycle ride, nothing fancy, to complete her 8-year-old son Marc’s wish.

The motorcycle would distract Marc from the brain cancer. The Newberry boy was diagnosed in January and since then he’s been staying home and undergoing chemotherapy, Okes said.

When she arrived Monday at the Gainesville Harley-Davidson on Northwest 97th Boulevard, she expected to see three or four bike riders take her son around the block. Instead, more than 150 bikers and Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, University of Florida Police Department and Alachua Police Department motorcycle officials showed up ready at noon to take Marc on an hour-long motorcycle parade through Alachua County.

John Franklin, a retired sergeant with the Gainesville Police Department, learned about Marc two weeks ago from his biking buddies. Since then, he’s tried to raise awareness on social media and get as many people involved in the parade as possible, he said.

“Marc is having a really tough time,” Franklin said. “He’s 8. Kids that age shouldn’t have that much to deal with.”

Before the parade, Lytle took Marc and Okes inside the Gainesville Harley-Davidson store to get necessary supplies. The 8-year-old came out of the store with blue sunglasses, a leather jacket that reached his knees and a helmet with the GPD insignia and “Officer Marc Okes” inscribed on the back. He was also made honorary sheriff, honorary motorcycle cop and honorary American Legion rider.

At least 100 bikers crowded around Marc and his mother in prayer for the upcoming parade and for Marc’s health. Two men helped Marc get into the sidecar of a cream-colored motorcycle that Lytle and Okes rode on.

Then the officers turned on their sirens and lights and led the motorcycle parade down Northwest 97th Boulevard as Marc waved to people cheering on the sidewalk.

Okes and Marc’s neighbor, Amy Worst, said things have happened quickly since they learned of the cancer. Okes is trying to juggle medical expenses, take care of Marc and work full time.

“One minute he was fine and the next he came back from an emergency room trip and they said he had tumors in his brain,” Worst said.

Marc’s tumors are located on the optic nerve in his brain, and doctors told Okes surgery is not an option. Marc is now being home-schooled as he undergoes chemotherapy, Worst said.

“He’s no different than when he learned he had cancer,” Worst said. “He’s still this crazy, spunky, off-the-wall great kid.”

Worst added that firefighters and police officers are Marc’s “heroes.”

“Whenever he sees an officer on the street, he goes up to them and asks all these questions about their gear and how to use it,” she said.

Rumbling sounds and sirens could be heard as the motorcycle parade made its way back to Gainesville Harley-Davidson around 1:30 p.m. After the parade was over, several bikers and officers came up to Marc, shook his hand and gave him a hug.

“We didn’t expect all of this,” Okes said. “Marc was yelling, ‘This is awesome’ as we drove in the parade.”

Marc’s eyes reddened as his mom mentioned the schoolchildren who came out to wave as he passed by.

“I wanted to jump up and scream,” he said.

Some veteran motorcycle riders gave him their good-luck charms or their bandanas.

“It was an honor to ride with you today,” a grizzly biker in a black leather jacket and light jeans told him. “Thank you.”

Someone in the crowd yelled, “Let’s do it again!”

Marc lifted his hands in the air and screamed, “Yeah!”

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