I was sitting at Starbucks talking on the phone with my mom when it hit me.
It was normal Saturday morning. I had just dropped my son off at his best friend’s house.
As I left, his friend’s mom said to me “Thank you so much for bringing Brad over to work on the science project. It really means a lot that they can work on the project together.”
“Of course,” I replied thinking nothing of it. “I’m glad it worked out.”
I hadn’t thought twice about their partnership in the science fair. They were great friends and got along well. Later sitting on the patio, I realized some parents would have been cautious. They wouldn’t have encouraged a friendship with a boy going through treatments for a rare pediatric cancer. I never hesitated, because in my experience, kids with cancer live.
My cousin was diagnosed with cancer when she was four. They found an orange size tumor in her chest and began treatment immediately. I was five, my sister three, and we became regular visitors to the pediatric floor. We played in the playroom, went with her to get her blood drawn and took turns pushing her IV, which she had named Charlie. We even went to the hospital Christmas party. After surgery, rounds of chemo and losing her hair, the day came when she left the hospital and never looked back.
Moments like these become deeply embedded into our DNA. They impact every decision we make, even when we don’t realize it.
When we saw Kameron’s name on the fifth-grade class roster during Meet the Teacher night, we were so excited. He spent fourth grade juggling home schooling and treatments and now he was back! The boys picked up where they left off, friends in the classroom and on the playground. And now with online gaming, they could hang out outside of school, as soon as homework was done of course.
As a parent, it’s hard to watch your child navigate friendship. You want them to find a friend that appreciates them for who they are. It’s precious and hard to find. I could hear the excitement in their voices as they played. It never occurred to me to keep them from the joy this friendship brought to both of them.
A few months into the school year, the doctors shifted Kameron back to learning from home. Their teacher, Mrs. Northrup, was amazing and continued to include him in many of the classroom activities, like the science fair. In turn, Brad would rush home from school to “see” Kameron online.
By Christmas, Kameron was back in remission. The boys celebrated with Kameron’s first ever sleep over, a trip to the fire station and a holiday festival with the hospital. The boys packed so much into twenty-four hours, they set the bar very high for the next sleep over. My experience was holding true, kids with cancer live.
By Spring Break, Brad was impatiently waiting for Kameron and his family to return from a trip to Hawaii. He knew they were supposed to be home on a specific day and Kameron had not logged on.
A couple days later, in the middle of the workday, Kameron’s mom called. The cancer was back. This time there was nothing the doctors could do.
She ended the call apologizing to me, “I’m so sorry to have to call and tell you this, but Brad was one of the first people we thought of.”
My heart was breaking for her, for Kameron, for Brad and for our families and she was apologizing to me......... Of course, I told her “You have nothing to apologize for.”
As I numbly drove home from work, I dialed my friend, and psychologist, Jody. It was divine timing she was free and answered my call.
“I don’t know what to do,” my voice cracked, while tears filled my eyes.
“Yes, you do.” she said. “You’re a mama, you know exactly what to do.” She suggested we tell him as soon as possible and provided some ideas on things we could do to help him process it.
Telling my eleven-year-old son his best friend is going to die, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It brought up a lot of unanswerable questions and a lot of tears. The only way I could describe it to him is that everyone comes to this life with a job to do. Each person takes a different amount of time to complete their job, but when you are done you die. Using the description of “a job” was something he could relate to and helped bring him a small amount of understanding.
Thankfully, two weeks later, Kameron was feeling good enough to celebrate his birthday. There were funny mustaches, goofy glasses, a llama pinata and lots of silly string. It was full of laughter and fun. It was a magical celebration for a special boy and one of the best birthday parties I will ever go to. Today, March 28th, marks two years since that special birthday party. It’s still as vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday.
Moments like these become deeply embedded into our DNA.
I have started writing this blog post multiple times over the last two years. There are a lot of emotions, countless lessons and I’ve barely scratched the surface. But for this post my takeaway is, I wouldn’t change a thing. The friendship the boys had was filled with joy and will live forever in the hearts of our family.
We talk about Kameron often, especially when we hear a song on the radio that reminds us of him. Every time Brad gets dressed for baseball, the #28 on his back is a reminder of his angel in the outfield. There’s even been talk of a tattoo design to honor his friend, when he’s old enough. We support, Kameron's Krusaders, a nonprofit his parents founded in his honor.
We try to protect our kids because we don’t want to see them hurt or in pain. We must remember; this is their journey. It is their experience. We are here to be by their side and walk them through it, but we can’t do it for them.
I don’t think I could have ever held those boys back from being friends. But in the off chance I had, look all we would have missed.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.