I spent the night conflicted, as I often do parenting a child with cancer.
Harrison learned yesterday that he earned a spot on his middle school baseball team. This was his dream since his brother made the team six years ago. Words cannot express the elation he felt having achieved this dream. In some many ways, baseball has been a life-saver for him. I have thought many times, “baseball has saved Harrison’s life.” I still believe that to be true.
But as I reflected, I was conflicted over where he is now compared to where he “could” have been without cancer.
From the time he was four, and began playing organized baseball, he has been the prodigy. He was always picked first. He wowed parents and coaches alike. He played far above his years. His physical skills at baseball were second only to his mind for the game. He was as fundamentally sound as any player I have seen, and had a higher baseball IQ than most coaches I’ve known; certainly higher than mine.
Three years ago no one who had seen Harrison play baseball would have questioned whether or not he would make any team he tried out for. Even the varsity coaches at the time recognized his talent.
Once, following his diagnosis, beginning of treatment, and near-fatal stroke, Harrison went to Lachlan’s pre-season baseball workout. They let him hit off the tee. On his first swing he missed the ball and fell because his legs were so weak from the treatment.
Tears swelled up in my eyes.
But Harrison just got up — unfazed by the embarrassing fall — and took another cut. Then another. Then another.
It was amazing. His form was still there. He was as fundamentally sound as ever. In fact, one of the coaches, a former major league baseball player, called the high school players over to watch his form.
He said, “Watch him, he is a natural. His hands are perfect.”
I thought about that episode when Harrison left the house to try out.
He’s a natural. His hands are perfect.
But a lot has happened since then. Harrison is no longer the player everyone wants on their team. His legs don’t work as well as they used to. He can’t run like before. Because of the Vincristine his feet don’t always work right. He sprained an ankle because of it, just before tryouts.
What used to come naturally to Harrison, what used to be exceptional, is no more. Cancer, and in particular the treatment to cure him, as stolen from him all that made him the player coaches fought over. No one watches him play any longer as says, “That’s kid is amazing.” He’s a very good baseball player, but is a shell of what he once was.
So my heart breaks for him. He’s not stupid.
Just getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. His body always hurts. His legs never work right. He runs with “duck feet” from the chemo.
Playing baseball requires every ounce of energy and determination.
Three years ago Harrison could probably have made the middle school team with little effort. But those days are long gone. Just to have a chance, he has to work harder than imaginable.
Last night Harrison crashed on the couch. He didn’t have the energy even to celebrate making the team. Just trying out had zapped all his energy.
As a coach, that’s the type of kid I want, however. Coaches all the time say, “We want more than just talent, we want the kid who works hard, overcomes adversity, and always gives 100% effort.”
They got him.
But they more than talent, effort, and determination. Something he did will illustrate why I love this kid so much:
Rather than celebrating his roster spot, was worried about the kids who didn’t make the team. He remembered how much it hurt to be cut from the school basketball team in the winter. So he said, “No one wants to be cut. I feel bad for them.”
Not pity. Genuine concern for his friends.
How does a kid who has to overcome cancer, cancer treatment, a stroke, daily pain, and (just for good measure) a sprained ankle, focus more on his friends that himself?!
You would think he was just be glad to be on the team, but he was instead trying to find a way to make things better for his disappointed classmates.
So I wrestled the entire night with fits of joy and sadness. Of elation and anger. Of delight that Harrison earned a spot and of disappointment over all that cancer has stolen from my little boy.
And then conviction.
Some many of our friends in the childhood cancer community can’t even comfort their sick child any longer. Cancer stole more than an amazing future in baseball. Cancer took their very life.
I wanted to be glad for my son, but I found myself hurting for him. Hurting for what he endures, for his knowing that some coaches no longer want him the way they did, for his having to work harder than everyone else just to be close. And hurting for moms and dads who would love to have even something small like making a baseball team to celebrate.
Harrison told his oncologist on the day he was diagnosed that his dream is to play pro baseball or football. There was a time when I thought that was a possibility. But cancer has dimmed his dream. His dream now: just play middle school baseball.
Our little baseball player my never live to even play high school baseball, much less college or pro ball. But while he has breath, no one will out-effort him. Out perform, maybe, but never outwork.
And while he is left with just “What might have been,” he will make the most of every opportunity he is given. Cancer may take his body, his talent, but he refuses to give up his effort, determination, and hard work hard work with him. And it cannot take his love for his friends.
There may never been another coach who wants a kid like that on their team, but I will always want him to be a kid like that.