So, way back in March of 2011, one of my best girlfriends’ (I’m going to call her Mary for confidentiality reasons) 10 year old son Kody was sick with Strep, one of the usual suspects of the cold and flu season. Kodys a tough kid… a sharp, thin, dark eyed boy with a wide pink smile and baseball cap shoved down over his long sandy blonde hair. He plays Football, is the fastest runner in 4th grade, rides off road motorcycles, loves to dance, rap like Eminen and always has a gleam in his eye. But Strep can get you down and Mary had it too. They took antibiotics in harmony and cleared it up just in time for Spring Break fun times. Kind of.
So Mary calls me one day, after the course of antibiotics, telling me Kody is feeling bad again, this time complaining that his shoulder hurts… agonizing pain, the kind that goes to the bone and keeps you awake all night crying. Remember… tough kid. Had to be bad.
Once in the pediatricians office the next morning, the doc finds a big ol strep infection in Kodys shoulder bone. More antibiotics. Strep moving into a bone? Wierd, but not totally uncommon and it calls for Xrays, to see whats going on in there.
You know when someone called an Oncologist suddenly comes on board and starts poking around the xrays, that it’s a bad sign. Then they start using the C word. This is when, as a parent, you can lose the ability to stand upright.. when you think your 10 year old kid could have cancer.
The next steps were a blur, as Kody began undergoing test after test at Childrens Hospital, to determine why he had pockets in his bone where infection could get into. Talks of a super-infection, cancer and even “saving his arm” are enough to send any parent into a panic. The doctors began drilling into Kody’s bones, removing marrow and bone samples to be send to St Judes and Mayo Clinic, the big guns brought in to help lead the search for what ailed Kody. Spinal taps were next, and blood sample after blood sample.
After the now team of doctors from across the US finally agreed on a diagnosis, the news came this Summer. Kody had Cancer, a difficult to diagnose type of non-hodgkins lymphoma, because it is rare in Children. Just a handful of cases in the country. Sickening news, but a glimmer of hope…it was very treatable. And, like with many things, just knowing what you’re dealing with can often be comforting.
I could tell you the next part of this story, about long weeks of Chemotherapy in a port in Kodys chest and directly shot into his spine, hair loss, a pale, translucent “Chemo-kid”with no hair and no appetite, appedicitis, blood transfusions and relentless bouts of vomiting and diarrhea but thats not what this is about. Ya, that all happened, and worse. The things Kody and his mom have had to endure are beyond what any parent, let alone person could ever imagine.
But… that’s not what this is about. This is about a brave boy who, when told about his Cancer, told his mom that he was ready to fight, and take it on like anything else hes ever fought for. He referred to an Eminem song he loves, I’m Not Afraid. He kept the nurses in check, monitoring his own tubes and tests. He danced to his spinal tap when he felt good, (against the nurses wishes) because he was sick of being wheeled around. He giggled at me and his mom when we danced around the hospital room for him. He comforted other kids waiting for treatment, older and younger, because he’d had them all. He reflected, and talked about how he would never look at a kid with no hair and a hat on the same again. he was that kid.
I have a brave friend. Mary took it all in stride, absorbing what the doctors told her, reading up, comforting her son and hoping and praying for the best. She’s amazing and I want to be just like her when I grow up.
So the necklace… These necklaces, like Kody’s pictured here, are given to each child as they officially start treatment for cancer at Radys Childrens Hospital. They start with a string, and for each treatment or test they get, they get a bead. Each bead represents a different type of treatment. The harsher the treatment, the more exotic the bead. Chemo or a spinal tap are really fancy beads. Some beads have even been really amazing places. The space shuttle bead pictured, went on a space shuttle voyage. But you see… Kody started his treatment this Summer with all the beads pictured, scooped into a pile in his hands by nurses on the first day. That’s how many tests he had, without fear, brave and stoic, before Kody even “officially” started Chemo.
Since then, the necklace has tripled in size. Kody just finished his last round of Chemo, thank God, and with it got a thumbs up after a clear MRI. He’s beaten the beast, we hope… and you can see it in his now dark knowing eyes and set jaw. A couple more tests… a PET scan just to make sure, and then a party is in order. The necklace, well, it will sit silently on a shelf, knowing all it knows, everything it represents… while the owner of it dances.