Tomorrow Harrison will turn twelve years old. His second birthday with leukemia. Final year as a pre-teen. Pretty big deal for any kid. Huge for him.
Birthdays are always a big deal for kids. We all remember the anticipation of parties, presents, and fun times with friends. For parents, every birthday a kid reaches is a milestone.
In the childhood cancer community birthdays are momentous occasions. Some parents dread birthdays because cancer made certain they would never enjoy another one with their son or daughter. Every birthday, every holiday, every memorable event is another reminder of what was stolen from them.
For others, for those families whose children remain with them, birthdays are momentous celebrations. You go from celebrating another year to rejoicing in another day with your child. Birthdays mean your child has beaten death for one more year; that cancer, or some insidious infection, has been kept at bay. No childhood cancer family takes birthdays for granted.
Two years ago Harrison was miserable on his birthday. He was pale, exhausted, sick. Little did we know it was because he had leukemia! Who would have guessed?!
Five days later the diagnosis rocked his world, and that of our family. Two weeks later Harrison suffered his near-fatal stroke. Then a blood infection. Then a fungal infection. Then the flu. A lot for a ten year old boy. It was, without a doubt, the worst year of his life, and Annus horribilis. It the cancer wasn’t going to kill him that year, something sure would. But it was also a year of miracles. A year of new treatments that would save hundreds of lives a year.
And year eleven was immeasurably better for Harrison.
Thanks to Make a Wish he attended the BCS National Championship football game in Miami. He cheered the NC State baseball team on to both regional and super-regional championships. He pitched his baseball team to the league championship. He led both the Ole Miss Rebels and the NC State Wolfpack football teams on their respective Walk of Champions.
Year ten was the year of misery and miracle. Year eleven was the year of the Champion.
Brian Kelly, the head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish signed Harrison’s ND cap at the Championship game this way: Fight Like a Champion Today, a play on their motto, Play Like a Champion Today.
And tomorrow night when we are sitting in Kanki Japanese restaurant enjoying Harrison’s favorite meal, he will eat like a champion, having spent the last two years fighting like one. And as year twelve begins for Harrison there is renewed vigor for life.
His and mine.
And a renewed vigor to help other families with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Happy birthday, Harrison. May you have many, many more.