This is a tribute to a child superhero. The hero is my 11-year-old grandson, Gregory, who now likes to be called Greg. He has always been an inspiration to me. Since the age of two Greg has been visiting hospitals, examined by specialists and working with therapists due to a litany of visual, behavioral and neurological disorders. He has been diagnosed with heterotopia, meaning his right brain is underdeveloped. Yet, again and again Greg has chosen to disregard his impediments and live a boy’s life. His resolute will to imagine, explore, create and laugh has inspired all those who know him. He’s also an enchanting storyteller. In short, life is bursting inside Greg.
Unbelievably, his dogged determination is now subject to a grave threat. In the spring of 2010 Greg was suffering a period of debilitating migraines. A number of doctors from different disciplines were unable to properly diagnose the reason. An explanation remained elusive until a resident ophthalmologist at the University of California San Francisco Hospital alerted his superiors that Greg’s migraines and deteriorating vision might be due to a brain tumor. At this moment Greg’s transformation into a superhero began. Some superheroes fight evil-doers like Dr. Doom or the Green Goblin. Greg’s archenemy is Medulloblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain tumor that originates in the cerebellum, the area of the brain that affects movement and balance. Whenever Medulloblastoma is discovered it is always categorized as Stage IV as it is so hostile. It typically imperils children
Greg’s cancer had been stealthily building up its destructive mass until it declared its presence by causing Greg to vomit and have migraines. Cancer is especially sinister as it is incapable of knowing the havoc it unleashes on patients and their families and thus cannot be called upon for mercy. It also does not care whom it affects or when, such as a little boy who has already faced a battalion of less menacing health villains. What kind of disease is solely driven to claim the life of a child?
Like most superhero struggles, Greg has been knocked down repeatedly during his uncertain path to victory. He has undergone brain surgery and six weeks of concurrent radiation and chemotherapy and has just started an additional eleven months of continuous chemotherapy. Greg has lost vision in his left eye and his hair. He suffers fatigue and imbalance and any infection could be life-threatening. Nevertheless, Greg has not complained during his daily trips to the hospital, even though he told me it was scary and hard to stay still during radiation.
You are so brave. I want you to know all that you have taught me. You accept your treatments as necessary to beat Medulloblastoma, but it breaks my heart to see you suffer from reactions to these treatments and medications. I so want to take this burden from you. Our world has been turned upside down and yet you have this amazing ability to put all the hard stuff behind you and enjoy the day. I so admire your cheerful attitude and total acceptance of life. Every day you teach us to live in the moment and find delight in the things that matter- like being together, laughing and having fun. You give love again and again. I’ve watched you draw people in by your laughter and openness. Life springs from you and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that. You have that rare gift of only being yourself. When I checked in at the hospital the lady at the reception desk said, “Oh, I know Greg. He is such fun to visit. He has great stories to tell.” You are a person who is gifted with the ability to seize the moment. When I’m around you I feel lighter and happier. Even when I’m not around you I’m more loving to everyone I meet. This is what I have learned from you. You really are my superhero.
In the past couple of months I have been able to spend more time with Greg. I look forward to his phone calls. I am thrilled when I hear him say, “Hi, it’s me! When are you coming over?” He greets me at the door, with a big smile and says, “Sit down, this is so funny and you are going to love it.” I giggle as I watch him laugh out loud at something silly that Sonic and Tails have done. When I watch Greg put on his Batman costume or pretend to be Johnny Thunder or Spiderman I can’t help but think he’s striving to find his superhero to beat Medulloblastoma. The doctors say Greg has a 80% chance of prevailing, but no child wins when Medulloblastoma returns to fight again.
Here we are in September, Child Cancer Awareness Month, and I wish to recognize the thousands of children who are looking for their superheroes to overcome their cancerous foes, as well as their families who yearn to see their children suffer no more. It’s absurd that sometimes it takes a child fighting cancer for us to see what life is all about.
With my love and affection for all the superhero children,