My son came home from his father's house this summer with a freshly shaved head. Leaving only the smallest amount of stubble possible, my ex-husband had buzzed his shaggy hair with the clippers in order to give him a cooler, cleaner look for summer. Still, as if it has become a completely physical reaction, one that by-passes my sensibility, my eyes welled up with tears and I felt a knot forming in the pit of my stomach.
Yes, his head was shaved for a reason, and shouldn't have been anything to cry over, but seeing the balded head of a seven-year-old boy sends my mind back to the weeks we spent on the transplant floor at the University of Minnesota and the months we spent at Ronald McDonald House when my youngest daughter underwent a bone marrow transplant.
The world of sick children is an invisible dimension laid seamlessly over the world we live in every day. For most people, it is goes on almost completely unseen until it directly affects your life in some way. Once you've seen it though, you can never make it disappear again.
When I see bald children, I don't think about my child anymore. Lauren did lose her hair, but as she has recovered from the transplant her hair has grown back. She has the longest, most beautiful hair of any four-year-old I know. Instead I think of Jillian. She was a two-year-old with neuroblastoma when we met her and her mother in 2007. She was very smiley and so cute. We saw them in the playrooms and dining rooms of the RMH nearly every day. Jillian quickly became one of Lauren's first friends. She lost her battle in early 2008.
I saw Tyler's family at the RMH every day as well. Tyler was recovering from a transplant for a rare metabolic disorder when we met him. The day that the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis we were eating dinner about a mile away at the RMH. Tyler's dad and I each put a child in a stroller and walked down there together to see what had happened. As we were leaving the RMH for home, I heard that Tyler ended up with an infection that attacked his immune suppressed body. Not long after that, I check back to his online journal to see how he was doing and learned that he had lost his battle as well.
Sweet Princess Caroline had leukemia and was undergoing her third bone marrow transplant when we left Minnesota to come home. Sadly, her little body couldn't handle everything it had been put through.
And then there is Evan. I never met Evan personally. I remember seeing his sisters at the RMH at dinner time. I remember seeing a link from one Caringbridge page to his and following it. I started reading and couldn't stop. My heart hurt for him and his family. Evan had a bone marrow transplant to fight his ALD. He contracted an infection post-transplant and earned his wings as well. You can see what his mother and so many others are doing in his memory at www.bahbad.org
There are so many more children whose stories I have followed, many whom I met at the Ronald McDonald House. Most of them were battling cancer. Some are still battling, while others' battles are over. Healing eventually comes to all of the children, whether or not it is an Earthly healing that we can all enjoy, or the healing that comes when the child reaches Heaven.
This is for you Jillian, Caroline, Evan, Tyler, Cadence, Harley, LB, Benjamin, Ellen, & Eli (all children who did not receive the Earthly healing we prayed for) and all of the other children who are still fighting. I won't forget what you went through, and I won't let others forget either.
There are a number of charities and organizations that are created to make the lives of these sick children better. You can find them here:
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