Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The ABS volleyball team is hosting a tournament at which
we will be able to run a booth to raise money for St. Jude.
Brandon sat with his family on the bench in front of us at church one Sunday morning soon after we returned home from being at St. Jude for many months. Eli’s shiny head marking the end of the row like a finial had his attention as his family filed passed us to sit down. With his eyes fixed on Eli, Brandon sat directly in front of him, placing his hand on the back of the bench then leaned forward so that only his nose to the top of his head showed. Then he popped up and said quickly, “hey, Eli,” then down again. Eli didn’t move and continued his pencil drawing of an intersection. I bumped him with my elbow and he quietly said behind his mask, “hi.” Since Eli was going to be his usual social stinker, I smiled and asked Brandon if he was in class that morning. I had walked Eli to his church class so that I could display him to the students for them to basically get their stares out and ask any questions about what he had been doing for the last nine months. So, Eli and I stood at the front of the class and I asked them if they knew where he had been, why he was gone, and what was different about him. Of course, almost in unison the class answered “He’s got no hair!” So, we talked briefly and generally about cancer, that it is not contagious, and about the medicine (chemo), that it is hard on his body and that’s why he looks so different. We talked about the mask, that it is for his protection, and I showed them his back-pack with the pump that was making a noise, and the tube that connected to the bag of nutrients. I showed where he had a bandage for his line that goes in his chest, connected to the TPN tubing, and I showed them his scars on the back of his head, and the bump where the valve for his shunt sticks up. The cutest little round face girl spoke up and put her hands to her chin and said “Awww, it looks like half of a heart,” describing the scar for the shunt. A couple of kids raised their hands to share about their own experiences of an aunt, or grandfather, or friend. I wondered if maybe Brandon had not been in class because his curiosity did not seem as satisfied as the others. He slowly lifted a Transformers toy above the bench for us to see. I said “oh, cool, is that Ironhide?” knowing full well through months of Transformers fact training with Eli that it was Bulkhead, but I was hoping my mistake would rouse Eli. Nothing gets a kid more riled than the chance to talk about his mother being wrong. Brandon rose up with a wide, square grin, “naw, this is Bulkhead… from Transformers Prime. We watch it on The Hub.” Worship began so his mother prompted him to turn around.
Joan Vining and Norm Webb of ABS getting the backpacks
loaded for delivery to St. Jude patients.
Kids have such big hearts. I didn’t know that until now, having actually experienced it. Eli has gotten and continues to get mail from kids and they always ask how he is doing when they see me without him. I think, too, the kid-impact is compounded by the school our kids attend. We made the decision to sacrifice a few things so that our kids could go to a private Christian school and we were blessed to have a respected school in my nearby hometown that I already loved. At that time, we lived in Harvest, so we moved to Athens 8 years ago when I was pregnant with Eli. I think the combination of living in my hometown, being members of a large church family, and being members of a small school family really raised the support levels several notches. All the “fingers” that reached out from those families into other areas of their own individual lives drew in more soldiers for the fight. I already had a special place in my heart for our school because of my relationship with it, but an entirely new place exists in my heart now that did not before because of what every person from the little nap mats in the kindergarten room to the beakers in the labs at the other end of the school has done for Eli and for what he means to them. Eli only had kindergarten and half of first grade under his belt when he was diagnosed. I remember visiting the school - not the first time after the news, but a couple months in - I was talking to his first grade teacher, Stephanie Sutton, and I had a sudden realization that Eli would not be in her classroom any more. My heart sank and I became frozen in thought. I wanted to cry right there. We love all of our teachers, and I don’t want any of my kids to miss any time with any of them, but having been in Mrs. Sutton’s class two times before, and having benefited from her tutoring for several years, I and my kids just love her. The girls talk about her still and I am always thankful that she specifically was a part of their education foundation. So, I was upset that Eli would not have a full year with her and that we did not know to appreciate the half year we did have. Thankfully, I’ve got another one coming through and I hope to take full advantage of her talents as a teacher this time. We have been blessed in so many ways because of our choice and effort to attend ABS. It’s been heartwarming to see the school make efforts to help the families at St. Jude. When I returned to Memphis after the summer, I took boxes and boxes of backpacks with me to be donated to kids at St. Jude from the school. And, this weekend the volleyball team is hosting a tournament at which we were offered the opportunity to raise funds for St. Jude. The older kids at school have been nothing short of precious. Their contagious enthusiasm and team spirit (which you know I love) creates an attitude of unity and fuels the effort to spread awareness about Eli and the cancer cause in general. Coach April Davis has always been mindful of her opportunity to teach more than volleyball to these girls as they grow into young women who will know how to be active in their community and confident in their abilities to make a difference. So, at the tournament on Saturday, we will be running an “Encouragement Booth” to raise money for St. Jude through Eli’s marathon team for the St. Jude race. An “Encouragement Booth” is something I made up, so I’m eager and anxious to see how well it works. My idea is to have the booth set up like a craft table, and adults and kids can pay to make a card, or just sign a card to have sent to children fighting cancer. We will have the envelopes pre-addressed and stamped, so participants just create their own cards or they can just sign a stock card. The point is to share some of the love Eli was and is shown. Eli was so well known in the mailroom at St. Jude because of the volume of mail he received. Other kids don’t have that level of support and we really want other families to experience it. Sadly, we live in a country so blessed that many only seek God when their backs are against the wall, when they are in dire need of help but by then too weary to raise a hand to reach out. So, I am hoping through this, the sharing of a kind word and Bible verse, a light will shine on their path and provide some comfort and guidance of where to reach. We will be at the ABS gym from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so stop by to make a card. We plan to have a few parking places up front designated for “card-makers” if you are not staying for the tournament and just want to run in and out. As always before I close, please remember Jayden as he works to gain strength and heal coming off the ventilator. Also, baby Jonathan as he heads toward his last chemo treatment with a smile on his face. Remember, Kayla as she had her three-month scan done today and will hear results on Thursday. Also, remember, the newly diagnosed Thomas here at home. Add a little girl named Amris to your lists as well as Sara and Will. We are over $600 in funds for Ryan’s funeral arrangements. I’m working on a pancake breakfast that I hope will put me over the top of my goal of $1000. Oh, yeah, and please remember Eli! I almost forgot about mentioning him. He’s had a rough (it’s relative) couple of days because he has thrown up the steroid they gave him, and the antibiotic that the cancer kids stay on didn’t go down so well. Then he threw up at supper time last night. His weight was down an ounce, and his ANC was down a little. So, kind of just holding steady by our fingernails. We have an appointment with a naturopathic practitioner tomorrow that I hope will get us set up on some supplements to compliment his treatment at St. Jude, so I’m excited to get that started. We are commercially organic now when it is convenient and when the kids will eat it – take that effort for what it’s worth, I guess.
We have fuzzy hair! And eyelashes.
Brandon, at church, stayed turned around on the bench the entirety of the service that Sunday morning working diligently on something. During the final song, he began to tear the sheet out of the coloring book. As I do with my kids, his mother, who was standing with the congregation, made a quiet finger snap at him to stop tearing the paper out because of the ripping noise it was making. He continued, but with an effort to tear more quietly, but still swiftly. Not satisfied with his effort, his mother reach down and pulled at his arm, but undeterred he continued and completed his task. As “Amen” was said to end the service, Brandon whipped around with the beautifully colored picture of Bumblebee the Transformer in hand and said “This is for you, Eli.”

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