You might think that 3-year-old children are too young to learn about cancer. You might think that cancer is a topic too heavy and deep for a teacher to be discussing with 3-year-olds.
Under most circumstances that might be true. But Jan Smith’s kindergarten classes are not like most other classes. In each class, she has a cancer survivor. In each class she has a child that was likely born with cancer. In each class she has a family that still lives life from scan to scan, existing now as “normal families,” but realizing that normality can change with any new day.
As Jan teaches her 3-year-old children, she sees Chandler Booth, son of Jim Mac and Kim Booth, and McKenzie Fleming, twin sister of Kylie and daughter of Steve and Carol Fleming, as two very special children among a classroom of special children.
To look at these children, no one would suspect the battles they have fought. They look as normal as any 3-year-old. Though the families do not dwell on their cancer, it not far from their minds. They know that like a roaring lion in one’s living room, the cancer can raise its ugly head again but there are great hopes that the cancers of these children can be cured.
Recently, Jan’s classes were read the story of Alex Scott, a true story of a little girl who became sick with cancer. In simple language, the story tells of a happy girl who became sad when the doctor told her she was very sick and needed strong medicine to get better. The medicine made her hair fall out. Determined to feel better again, Alex decided she would do something to help other children who were sick like she was to get better, too. So she set up a lemonade stand and sold lemonade. She gave the money to the hospital to help other sick kids get well.
Jan’s 3-year-olds then had their turn selling fresh-squeezed lemonade to moms and dads, grandparents, the church staff and church members. They told all the customers their money was going to help make sick children in the hospital get well. It was obvious each child felt he or she was doing something important and worthwhile.
In the appendix of the children’s book, Alex and the Amazing Lemonade Stand, which is hand-signed by the author as a gift to the Booth family, the adults are told that Alex was diagnosed with neuroblastoma before her first birthday. This is the same cancer Chandler Booth was diagnosed with 47 days past his first birthday.
The appendix also shares that Alex lost her battle with cancer in August 2004 at the age of 8. Before she died, and with the help of others, Alex had raised more than $1 million to help find a cure for all kids with cancer. Yet, her brave sprit continues to live in the hearts of her parents and friends and in the thousands of others who have set up lemonade stands across the country to raise money for cancer research.
The Scott family has surpassed the $2.5 million mark in a $5 million campaign to raise money this year for cancer research.
Alex’s mother, Liz, writes: “Despite all of the wonderful things in my life, there will always be a part of me that has to constantly work to accept the things I cannot change. I will always live in the shadow of grief. I will always have deep sadness that is just waiting to come to the surface. I will always have questions that will never be answered. I will always wonder what Alex would be like if she had survived her cancer. I will always feel a pull at my heart when I see a mother and daughter sharing a laugh together. If I don’t accept these things, then my life would be consumed by them. So, I have to accept them (I didn’t say I like them!) and I get on with life.”
The Booth family realizes that out of all the cancers, neuroblastoma is one of the deadliest. Yet, Chandler has a better chance of seeing adulthood than Alex Scott because the research is more advanced. The treatment is now more refined. Chandler benefits from journeys taken by the Alexes of this world.
As this article is written, Chandler is in Atlanta for another scheduled scan.
McKenzie, who was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, stage II, at four months of age, received a clear scan earlier this month in Atlanta. The Flemings are four months away from their last set of scans!
Carol has this beautiful quote on McKenzie’s Web site: “Children with cancer are like candles in the wind who accept the possibility that they are in danger of being extinguished by a gust of wind from nowhere and yet, as they flicker and dance to remain alive, their brilliance challenges the darkness and dazzles those of us who watch their light.”
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.