Last Saturday Harrison, Ginger, and I spent about two hours practicing soccer. Harrison tried soccer once, when he was four. Lachlan played once at five or six. Blakely never played.
So why soccer?
Because Harrison refuses to let cancer win.
Let me explain.
At his last hospital visit Harrison got some really bad news: no football. He was devastated. He had spent all summer going to football workouts for three hours a day at 7:00 AM. He had been a great football player before his diagnosis. He was the quarterback and middle linebacker. The coach often had two defenders on him alone during “Oklahoma” drills, just to make it even. Had planned for years to play football for his school.
But football just isn’t in the cards for him. He has three strikes against him (to mix sports metaphors).
First, his brain is filled with chemo. In an effort to prevent the leukemia from finding sanctuary in his central nervous system, the oncologist injects methotrexate into his spinal column every couple of months.
Second, his bones and joints are weakened from the steroids. Prednisone is bad for cancer cells, but it is bad for bones as well.
Third, Harrison has already experienced significant brain trauma. His two blood clots caused five bleeds deep in his brain. So deep, in fact, that the trauma doctor at Wake Med told us he would never recover. This fact was the final straw.
Harrison is done playing football.
He doesn’t know football is over for him. He still has hope he will be on the field next year. He can’t imagine not playing. He loved to hit. In fact, just before the doctor told him he couldn’t play, he said, “I can’t WAIT to hit somebody in a few weeks.” Not. Gonna. Happen.
After taking a few days to recover emotionally from this traumatic news, Harrison declared, “I’m going to try out for soccer.”
He made his mother take him to Dick’s to buy a soccer ball. He got the football gloves that NC State coach Dave Doeren gave him to use as goalie gloves. And he asked his mother and me to practice with him in the yard.
So for two hours his mother and I practiced soccer with him. He worked on kicking, dribbling, blocking.
After two hours Ginger and I were done. But not Harrison.
He spent the next two hours by himself kicking the soccer ball into a baseball net. He would kick. Go get the ball from the net. Walk back. Repeat.
Four two hours.
He finally came in and remarked, “I wish I had more than one ball so I didn’t have to keep walking to pick it up.”
I watched from the window in tears. Tears of joy because of his sheer determination. Tears of sorrow because I know he has little chance of making his school team. I know how unlikely it is that he’ll make the team. For the next two weeks he will work day and night, until the point of exhaustion, to be better at a sport he’s never really played. He’ll ask me every day and night to play with him. He’s already asked a rising senior at school who’s played his entire life to help him get ready for tryouts.
In the end, all his work will be, I am certain, for nothing.
But he is determined to try. Rather that just packing his bags and quitting after the bad news, he’ll pick himself up off the mat and keep fighting. Cancer has been one disappointment after another for him. And as a dad it breaks my heart to see the challenges he has had to face. And those that still lie ahead for him. But I am grateful there is no quit in him. I’ve always told my kids that coaches want players work hard, who show determination, who refuse to quit. I am grateful my son is a kid like that.
Not sure I could do it.