11/11/2012 marked the one year anniversary in which our family had gathered around my twelve year old son Joey to witness him Ring the Bell at the Children's Hospital of Michigan. It was a small but significant ceremony to celebrate the end of a long road of treatment for his second brain tumor. Two weeks after that it was discovered that he had developed Leukemia, caused from the very treatments that were supposed to save his life. My husband and I sat in stunned disbelief as his doctor explained Joey would have to immediately start treatment again and would require a bone marrow transplant. Secondary cancers are not as easy to cure we were told, there would be many risks and complications.
Last holiday season I could not muster up the strength to put up the tree or bring out more than a handful of Christmas decorations. Joey had started chemotherapy and my main focus was taking care of him and preparing for the long hospital stay once he had his transplant.
So this year I decided to make Christmas special not only for Joey, but for our entire family. The past year had been exhausting and challenging for all of us and I thought it was time we had fun as a family. I started asking the kids what they wanted for Christmas this year, thinking I would be clever and do my shopping early. My oldest son Richard and Joey’s twin sister Maggie each gave me a few good ideas, but Joey remained quiet. I asked him again and he stated that he had enough of everything. Surprised at his answer, I replied there must be something he wanted but he simply shook his head no and said he was spoiled and did not deserve anything.
“Joey,” I said "You are most deserving! You never ask for anything and we want to do something to bring you happiness." I let the subject drop, but later that night he came up to me crying.
"I am ready now to tell you why I don't want anything for Christmas.” He said through his tears.
Alarmed, I dropped the dishtowel from my hands to give my full attention.
“Do you remember when we were at the hospital last year and we saw that little boy all burnt up in a wheelchair?" Instantly I knew what he was referring to although we had never spoken of it. "I had been in a bad mood, feeling sorry for myself and that boy was so happy and said hi to me even though his face was all melted and he had no hands. I was so ashamed of myself. That boy will be that way all his life. He will never have hands or be able to run and play. Look at me! I have only had a few surgeries but one day I will be all done with this but he never will! Everyone sent me all those cards and gifts but his parents did not look like they even had much. So now I think about him every single day of my life. Can't we send him my gifts?"
I was crying too hard to speak. I had no idea he had been thinking about that little boy and I told him I did not know how to find that child but we could find other children in need and brighten their Christmas.
I felt ashamed too. Last year I spent the most holy season of the year frozen in fear, unable to enjoy the time we did have together as a family because I was too scared of what was to come. I look back now at our year and while it was indeed incredibly difficult, I see how God was with us every step of the way. He guided us and sent the most amazing people to help us. They brought us meals, ran errands and most importantly, prayed for us.
So now I am making our home as cheerful and festive as possible for Christmas and every day. We will celebrate being together as a family and as we continue to pray for Joey we will not forget all the other children that need our love and prayers.
One of Joey’s nurses that would lovingly tuck him in each night during his long hospital stay wrote to me saying there were many boys and girls that would not be able to go home for Christmas. I read her letter to Joey and we both had the same idea; let’s send something special for each child.
And who knows, maybe we will see that little boy in the wheelchair again.
The one with the big smile.