There are defining moments in every one’s life. You know what I mean. Those moments that you look back on and say before this happened or after that happened. For our family one such moment occurred on July 6th, 2001. We were at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh with our oldest son DJ. He was having alot of pain in his shoulder and after seeing doctor after doctor and being poked and prodded, he was finally sent for a bone marrow test. I remember the moment so clearly. It is forever seared in my mind. Doctor Wollman walked into the room and in his kind gentle voice said those terrifying words that NO parent wants to hear. “It’s leukemia.” He went on to say that they weren’t sure, but he was confident that it was Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) which is the “best kind to have if you are a child.” It is very treatable and has an extremely high rate of complete curability. And the tests seemed to indicate that they had caught it in the early stages. That’s what he said, at least that’s what I think that he said. When I heard “It’s leukemia” everything else became foggy. I had seen my mom outside the room, but when she saw the doctor in the room with us, she turned to go and wait in the waiting room. I got up and walked right out of the room. I was following my mom, but I couldn’t say anything. I knew that if I opened my mouth to say it, it would be true and I would have to face it. I didn’t want to hear that it was curable and that we had “caught it early.” My baby had cancer and I needed to process that first. I needed to wrap my mind around THAT first. I needed my mom. I needed MY mom so that I could go back into that room and be HIS mom. I finally dared to speak and I managed to choke out, “Mom.” She turned around and somehow she knew. I still don’t know how, but she did. She hugged me first and then whipped out a stack of papers that she had printed off of the internet. She was armed with information about ALL. I knew right then and there that he was going to be fine. We were all going to be fine. Now he needed his mom and dad. His parents needed to be strong for him. I don’t think he realized that Brian and I got much of our strength from him. With alot of prayer we prepared for the battle ahead of us, the battle of our lives, the battle to save his life. It was a long 3 years and 3 months of treatment with many bumps along the way, but ultimately we won. He won. My little round faced boy who was petrified of needles has grown into a caring, smart and healthy young man. He was stronger and braver than most adults would have been. I would often sit there just watching him as he would find the good in the situation marveling at his positive attitude. Instead of being upset about yet another trip to Pittsburgh for a spinal tap or bone marrow or chemo treatment, he would excitedly tell the nurse what special treat he was going to get on the way home. When the inevitable happened and he lost his hair, he excitedly pointed out how he looked like Michael Jordan now that he was bald. Oh my sweet funny boy. He was and still is an example of what a beautiful strong spirit is. Another blessing that we experienced was the tremendous amount of kindness that others continually poured on us. From toys for DJ, to gas cards, to money to help with parking fees, the blessings never stopped. The prayers never stopped. It reinforced that people are really good at heart. We felt that one way to give back was to participate in the local Relay for Life walk to help to raise money for the American Cancer Society. DJ was asked to be an Honorary Chairperson. As such he would lead the way for the survivor walk and even got to carry the actual Olympic torch for a lap. (By the way, it was very heavy. ) We started a team for him which he named the DJ’s Dinosaurs. Hey, he was only 6 at the time, he was really into dinosaurs! We have participated in the Relay in one way or another every since. For the last two years we have walked for DJ’s Uncle Chad’s team. Chad was, oddly enough, diagnosed with Leukemia 2 years ago. Thankfully both of them are in remission and are healthy and as strong as ever. Our family has a special insight into how fragile life can be and what an absolute blessing it is to have your health. I know that when I look at my 13 year old teenager, it is hard to imagine that he had been such a sick little boy. He is tan and strong and kind and smart and alive. Thank you God, he is ALIVE!
DJ at our first Relay for Life, back in June of 2002. He was only 6 then. Note the Olympic Torch: It was really the one used at the Olympics!
DJ at the most recent Relay for Life in June of 2009.
DJ showing us his Survivor shirt. Wear it with pride!
Chad and DJ help to carry the banner to lead off the survivor walk.
Our SURVIVORS!!!! DJ and his Uncle/Godfather Chad
Our little family back then: Brian and Me (With Isaac in my belly) DJ, Coley and Jake
Our Big family now: Me ( with Aiden
in the sling) Coley, Brian holding Noah, DJ, Jake, Hannah, Isaac and Gia
(hiding behind Isaac)
Coley DJ and Jake with our mascot…the DJ Dinosaur!
The Wonder Twins, I call them this because people always wonder if they really are twins! HA!
Kaylee and Breanna are proudly wearing the Hunting For a Cure shirts to support their dad’s team.
Hannah looking cute as ever in her “vintage” DJ Dinosaur shirt.
Gianna and Kaylee were enjoying all of the kids’ games and face painting.
Isaac and Jake, Need I say more?
The balloon release. Each balloon is in honor or in memory of someone who has battled cancer. It’s a really beautiful sight.
Noah and Brian watching the balloon release
DJ and his little cousin Rexton, Chad’s youngest son
Noah and Chase, Chad’s oldest son
Some of Chad and DJ’s signs
Aiden, our youngest team member
Brian and I