Today marks two years since Harrison’s diagnosis with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He’s had a remarkable two years filled with several near-fatal events, remarkable recoveries, and near-miraculous advances in cancer treatment.
It is sometimes difficult for me to believe that two years have passed. On the one hand the struggle seems to drag on endlessly. On the other hand, the time has flown by. Harrison’s brother was a ninth grader when I picked him up from school and told him his brother had cancer. Blakely had just become a teenager. Now Lachlan is looking at colleges and Blakely is driving me around everywhere. When Harrison finishes treatment in April of 2015, he will be finishing the seventh grade, Blakely will be looking at colleges, and Lachlan will be graduating. Amazing.
A lot changes with a cancer diagnosis. And while most of it is awful, there are blessings in the wilderness.
This picture illustrates starkly the paradox of being a childhood cancer patient.
In the middle is Coach Dave Doeren, the head football coach at North Carolina State. Coach Doeren heard about Harrison from Elliot Avent, the baseball coach at NC State. He called on Thanksgiving to invite Harrison to join him at the final game of the year. He had breakfast with the coach, rode in the caravan with the team to the stadium, lead the Walk of Champions, and joined the team on the field. Coach Doeren has a million things to do on a Saturday morning, but he turned his attention to my son. He and Coach Avent gain nothing from being a blessing to Harrison, but they still do it.
Coach Doeren is speaking to a sweet little girl I’ve written about previously, Meghan Bunn. Meghan is a softball player from a nearby town who is fighting medullablastoma, a rare brain cancer. She and Harrison have become good friends, not just in the oncology clinic but outside it as well. Harrison was so glad to learn she would be there. Childhood cancer is about more than chemo, radiation, blood transfusions, and bald heads. It’s about friendships. We love Meghan and her dear family, and thank God for this new friendship.
And there are other friends Meghan represents. Carrie Lewis, the incredible nurse practitioner and hockey fan, who took Harrison to see the Hurricanes the first week after diagnosis, has become a dear friend. She asked Lachlan to care for her cats when she was away and help move her mom to town. That’s what friends do. Dr. Weston is more than a dispenser of treatment, he’s a friend. The nurses put up with Harrison’s antics in the clinic because they care.
There is another person in the picture: the football player Harrison is about to shake hands with. Harrison loves football. He was a remarkable player before his diagnosis. He played quarterback and middle linebacker. He loved to hit people. And he’s convinced he’ll play again. In the picture, the player represents hope. Harrison desperately wants to play football again, and is determined to make it happen.
And one day it will.
So this picture represents so well the many blessings we’ve known.
(1) People who give of themselves with nothing to gain. I can’t even begin to name the people who have given something to bless Harrison or our family. Financial support to help pay for treatment, meals, opportunities, gift cards, letters, football and baseball cards, pictures, phone calls. All from people who would never get a thing in return.
(2) Friendship. New friends and old. Friends who sat in waiting rooms outside the PICU when we thought Harrison would die, who ferried our other kids places, who brought Bojangles to the hospital, who prayed for and with us, who gave of their time and money to help. And new friends like Carrie and Meghan. And Cuyler. And Taylor. And Melaney. And… the list goes on.
(3) Hope. We would not have survived these two years without hope. Hope in the love of our Heavenly Father. And a dogged determination to rise above the pain and suffering, to emerge from this better equipped for life.
In two years Harrison has been through a lot. And in those years we have all learned a lot. Despite the terrible experiences of childhood cancer, we’ve experienced the blessing of people who gave of themselves when they would get nothing in return. We’ve seen the friendship of people we never would have met. And we hold out hope for a better day for Harrison and all kids with cancer.
It hasn’t been easy. And the final year and a half of treatment will not be easy either. But the blessings remain. As does the knowledge that nothing, neither sickness nor health, neither life nor death, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
Scripture says there are three great virtues: faith, hope, and love. Faith in the kindness of our God. Hope for his ultimate purposes to come to fruition. And love for God and neighbor. Even in the childhood cancer community these three remain. And the greatest of these is love.