Entertainment and Sports

The Good, The Bad, and The Sad

The holidays came with black clouds this year.

By Kevin Somers
Published January 10, 2007

(Please see the update at the end of this article -Ed.)

The holidays came with black clouds this year.

My brother-in-law, Stephen Thompson, died of cancer on the December 22. Steve, who married my wife's sister, was 52 and leaves behind Cindy, three lovely, teenage daughters - Jenny, Stephanie, and Lauren - a close family, and a lot of friends.

His memorial service was on the 28th and Steve was aptly eulogized as a hard working, fun loving family man whose generosity was without limit.

Well-equipped with entertaining things to do, we refer to Steve and Cindy's house as "the resort." It's a great place to visit and everyone is always made to feel comfortable. There is a pool, hot tub, pool table, trampoline, HUGE TV, snacks, beverages, space, and a genuine feeling of being welcome.

Steve would get mad if you showed up with beer because the fridges had already been stocked.

Although successful in a competitive field, the thing that impressed me most about Stephen was when, in his late forties, he started playing hockey. He had always watched and loved the game and decided, finally, to participate. He bought gear, took lessons, and joined a team.

When I asked him last Christmas how hockey was going, he smiled and said, "I'm the worst guy out there, but I love it." I can picture him on the ice determinedly doing his best and on the bench or in the dressing room having a ball; all smiles.

On the night of the memorial service, there was a memorable party at Steve and Cindy's. Despite the circumstances, there was much laughter. At times, you could feel Steve's presence and you knew he was smiling, too. In the hockey vernacular he loved, Stephen was a real good guy.

Also grim is the news we keep getting on my little niece, Julia. My sister, Geri's daughter, has been inflicted with a rare, insidious disease that keeps coming back despite an ocean of tears, a mountain of prayer, and medicine's best.

Julia has histiocytosis, a virulent, cancer-like disease that attacks different parts of the body without rhyme or reason.

The disease first showed up in Julia's head before she was two. It has eaten a hole through her skull and she still has brain tumors. Chemotherapy and radiation, which caused her hair to fall out temporarily, reduced the number and size of the tumors, but three remain.

Walking into the critical care unit at McMaster Children's Hospital is not a trip anyone should ever have to make, but whenever we did, Julia was there to cheer us up.

Everyone agreed that the comical, cheerful little girl soon had you smiling. Despite being plugged into an IV or recovering from treatments only slightly less lethal than the disease, her pluck was amazing.

Over the holidays, an MRI determined that the disease is now in Julia's legs. There is a tumor in one leg and a hole in her femur on the other. Consultations are ongoing, but it looks like more heavy-duty treatments are in store for the little angel, who is only five. Her mother cries when she talks about it.

This was not the news we were hoping for. Julia already takes a lot medication every day and there are complications from the disease and strategies used to combat it. Some of the difficulties will be lifelong and there are likely others we don't yet know about.

Out of the hospital, Julia runs and giggles without restraint. She loves to play and sometimes has a sleepover with our girls, but Mom is tired of hearing that Julia doesn't look sick. She is. The poor little girl is very sick and the nightmare won't end.

Fortunately, we live near McMaster and Canada still has socialized medicine. The staff at the hospital has been remarkable, battling the disease every way they can think of. Between their expertise and dedication, a collective will, and Julia's fighting spirit, she'll beat this.

Update

I received this letter from a parent in Texas whose son suffers from the same disease as Julia.

Mr. Somers,

My condolences to you and your family, especially to Cindy, Julia, and Julia's family. Our three year old son is also battling histiocytosis, and has been for the last two years. Like Julia, Logan's tumor ate through his skull.

It's a devastating diagnosis, and it's painful to watch all the things our children have to endure. But they do it with such bravery and poise. My only consolation is that, since they are children and so focused on the moment, hopefully they don't worry about the future nearly as much as their parents do.

Thank you for your well researched and written article. To fight a rare disease, we have learned that you need two things: awareness and research funds. You have helped us raise awareness.

Thank you for watching over our children. All our prayers for your family.

Don Johnson

My son is fighting for his life. More info at: http://www.NotTheActor.com

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

4 Comments

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By adrian (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 07:32:29

Kevin, I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your brother-in-law. He does sound like a real good guy. 52 is too young.

And I really hope Julia gets better. Your post has made me grateful, again, for the health and wellbeing I enjoy. Thank you.

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By Geri (anonymous) | Posted January 20, 2007 at 15:46:42

Hi Kevin,
Thank you for writing this beautiful article, it made me cry. Julia is an angel. May Erin and Claire always be blessed with good health.
Love, Geri

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By Lee (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2007 at 14:47:30

Hi Kevin,

Julia is an angel and an inspiration, she has endured more hardship than most of us would in a lifetime yet she keeps smiling and joking, she is a tough little cookie. Julia and Geri are in my thoughts and prayers.

Lee.

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By Guardian Angel (anonymous) | Posted January 24, 2007 at 16:58:54

Julia, you have a Guardian Angel watching you. Please get better soon.

Love you!

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