There are so many memories. So many. You were the inspiration for Rally. The first Rally Kid.
Your driveway was the prayer circle driveway. The driveway where, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 9:30, God took a minimum of six to as many as 15 women on an unbelievable journey to pray you and your family through your first relapse with medulloblastoma—a pediatric brain tumor.
We were an interesting crew made up mainly of baseball moms from all different faiths, denominations, neighborhoods and schools. We had ladies who “named it and claimed it” and ladies who said, “This is God’s will” and ladies who said, “We just don’t get it, Lord” and ladies who never said a word but faithfully showed up.
Where Rally Started
From your driveway to your hospital room, Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research was birthed. Rally was never about one kid, one type of pediatric cancer. From the very beginning it was about all kids fighting cancer, no matter what type and funding the best research wherever that might be. Rally truly emulated the Three Musketeer cry of “One for all and all for one!”
It is hard to believe you have been gone nine years—that nine years have passed since I was on the phone with Reid, and he was telling me what a great conversation the two of you had about life and heaven. He was assuring me that it was fine to wait until tomorrow to go visit you. I remember Peggy buzzing in, in a panic, and telling me, “I think this could be it. I think William may be dying.” I assured her that wasn’t the case, because Reid had just left the hospital and I was actually talking to him on the other line.
I was baffled and asked Peggy where she was getting her information. I’ll never forget her answer: “Nancy. Will’s mom.”
The world just stopped. It was like being underwater. I clicked back to Reid and asked him to come straight to Rally. Then your Mom called. She was racing to get back to you at the hospital. We prayed and talked as she drove. She said, “Don’t hang up” and I assured her that I wouldn’t.
I remember she pulled up to the front of the hospital and threw her keys to Peggy who was waiting. Trying desperately to make it to you, she got in the elevator, walked into your room and screamed. My heart sank. Then I heard the doctor say, “If you want to talk to him, now is the time and make it quick we’re headed to ICU.” I breathed a sigh of relief, thanking God that you were still with us and that your mom was there.
Reid arrived at Rally and I picked up my purse and walked straight out the door. I didn’t say a word to anyone. I couldn’t.
We drove in silence to the hospital, went to ICU and waited with your parents along with your sister, Claire, Peggy and a few others. The doctor came out and we all thought we knew what he was going to say—that your brain cancer had spread like wildfire. Instead, he said your cancer was stable and then listed off about 20 major things that were wrong with your body.
I remember just shaking my head in total disbelief that so much could be wrong with someone so young.
We went home and waited for the call. It came early the next morning. Your 11-year battle with pediatric brain cancer—medulloblastoma—was over. You were now living where you and Reid had just talked about less than 24 hours before. You were healthy and whole. We were heartsick and shattered.
Brain Tumor Awareness Month
May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month and I guess in some random way it is fitting that you died on May 2. Actually, no, it isn’t fitting at all. You should be here with us. You should be 33 years old, working as an environmental engineer, married and maybe even have a kid or two. You should be spoiling Claire and George’s daughter—your niece, Louise—whom you would adore. I guess you would have a dog, but we don’t need to talk about that!
My Favorite Memories
There are so many memories and so many more that will never be made. I really hate cancer. And I hate it extra in kids.
Here are a few of my favorite memories, in no particular order:
- I first met you when you were in 7th grade because you and Jonathan were on the same travel baseball team. Oh my stars, William, it took you forever when you were pitching to throw a pitch. You were so slow and methodical! But we knew two things when you pitched: it was going to be a long game, and we would win.
- You calling our house as a middle schooler, asking Reid if he wanted to go with you to see The Patriot.
- Meeting Rally Kid Andrew Vassil and his family in your backyard right before you went in for your stem cell transplant, after your first relapse.
- Praying for your chemo bath and having no clue why the Lord kept bringing it to my mind. Hot water anyone?
- Lentils—enough said.
- Going to your house after we just learned of your second relapse—we were all in shock. You were doing so well. About to go back to Auburn for your final semester, to graduate with big plans for the future and then your Dad got the call with MRI results that to this very day baffle us all. You looked great, felt great, yet the MRI said your brain cancer had returned with a vengence. You answered the door and we just hugged for a long, long time. Then I said, “I really like that you are the inspiration for Rally and that you are here and alive.” You laughed and said, “I like that, too.”
- Lake time—lots of lake time.
- Meeting one of your doctors who asked me just how smart were you? I said that your intellect was off the chart. The doctor agreed and said the medical staff marveled that, even though you had the lifetime maximum of radiation allowed, you were still so smart.
- Your smile when you spoke at the Bash.
- Watching the first Auburn game when Cam was our quarterback. At halftime, you looked at Reid and I then you very slowly and cautiously said, “I think we have a quarterback.”
- You began the recycling program at Auburn. Sustainability was always important to you and now there is award in your name given every year.
- You and Jonathan have the same birthday: December 10, 1986.
- Your graduation from Auburn—special on so many levels and it took so much courage. I am still so proud of you. I remember right after we got the news of your relapse, I told you that whatever it took, you would graduate. And it took a lot and you did it to a standing ovation. War Eagle!
- Being on Turner Field with you after you relapsed and realizing that you had never done much with Rally because you had been at college for four years. It was such a joy that you got to experience Rally for a year and half.
There are so many more memories, and we should have made even more, but that will not happen this side of heaven. I am forever grateful for the hope of heaven.
Pediatric Cancer Research
We just gave $2 million to fund pediatric cancer research across America and internationally bringing the our total of grants made to $22 million. And although Rally is all about all kids, and all the different types of pediatric cancers, every time we fund brain cancer research, I wonder if it would have worked for you. To date we have funded $5.7 million specifically for all the horrific childhood brain cancers.
William, it is so hard to believe that you left us nine years ago. In some ways it seems like yesterday and I guess in light of eternity, it was like yesterday. I wonder what your days are like. I wonder what you think about this pandemic. I wonder what trouble you and Rally Kid Tyler are getting into and I wonder how hard sweet Rally Kid Alexa is working to keep you two straight!
We miss you, love you and will Rally On for you and all kids fighting the cancer beast!