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When I Think of My Father: Henry’s Story

A remarkable young man named Henry gave a speech at our recent Evening of Hope Gala that made quite an impact. Henry was kind enough to let us post it here so everyone could see his story. Thank you, Henry!

Henry with John 1When I think of my father, I imagine his massive arms.  Arms that used to swoop me up and float me high in the clouds so I felt like I was flying.  Arms that taught me how to cast a fishing line with a flick of the wrist.  Arms that steadied my bike when I first learned to ride and comforted me when I fell off and ate dirt. Surprisingly my father’s arms- that seemed as large as Popeye’s in size, were no match for my super-powers when we wrestled and played dinosaur and I won.

This all changed the day my mom told me my dad had acute leukemia. I was supposed to go to my friend’s birthday party but we had to skip it and go to the hospital.   It was on that day, that I sat next to my dad while the doctors inserted a line in my father’s arm to receive chemo.  They explained that he would have to live in the hospital, go through chemo, radiation and a bone marrow transplant.  I remember being told to stay hopeful, but what I really felt was chaos and confusion– wishing that I wasn’t contemplating cancer but instead eating cake with my friends.  Wishing I had friends or teachers who I could talk to about being scared of losing my father.   For the next six months, my experience with cancer was a realization that I did not know what was going to happen.  There were amazing moments – when Matt Kemp visited my father in the hospital and left me a gift basket.  Fun moments- when our friends Karen and Julie decorated my father’s hospital room and we held a New Year’s party.  Moments filled with play- when my dad and I went bowling in a mock bowling alley they made for us in a hallway at City of Hope.  There were moments of happiness- when my dad taught me to quilt in his hospital room so that we could work on a project together…. to the moments of fear and not knowing if he was going to survive because he was so weak he could barely lift his arm to hug me or say my name.  And then there was the moment to which there is no words- the day I lost my father to leukemia after his seven months battle with cancer.

I remember very little about that day, except that it was a Tuesday and I asked my grandparents to take me to attend Kid’s Circle at The Cancer Support Community.  I walked in and Joyce hugged me and I shared what had happened and I ate a snack.

Henry with John 2Since the beginning of my father’s illness, I had been going to Kid’s Circle each week. In Kid’s Circle everyone has a family member with cancer so we all feel the same and safe to talk about it with each other.  It was so weird the first day but after a while I became a part of the community. Little did I know the first month I attended Kid Circle that it would later become the highlight of my week.  It’s a place for me to share my fears, my feelings, and ask my questions.  Equally important, it is a place that allows me to be happy and play, when everyone around me was grieving.  In Kid’s Circle we first meet and do a check-in to discuss what’s happening to us.  Kids share the emotions and highlights of the past week.  Afterwards, we work on projects.  Each week is a different project.  Some of my favorite projects have included making a journal of questions, creating a talking stick, and designing hand puppets.  Often we have special visitors such as the Spring Chickens Improv Group, a dance instructor, the Knotty Knitters, or Karaoke.  At the conclusion of Kid’s Circle, we form a circle and hold hands and take a moment to breathe and relax.  Then we choose a topic and each say a word that comes to mind.  When I think about the Cancer Support Community, the word that comes to my mind is ‘friendship’.

It’s been two and a half years now since I started attending Kid’s Circle weekly. When I think back on my experience with my father having leukemia, I realize that neither my father nor any adult in my life promised me that he would be ok, yet they’ve helped me believe and realize that I can be ok.  Kid’s Circle is special to me because they have shown me that although the loss of my father is tragic, I can once again grow to be hopeful and happy in my life through the love and support of my mother, sister, family, friends, and the Cancer Support Community. That it ok to once again enjoy life.   This is something my father asked of me before he died- to live life to the fullest each and every day. To grow to appreciate and once again experience the beauty, love, and happiness each day brings.  Thank you Joyce and Kid’s Circle for helping me keep this important promise to my Dad.


To make a donation help fund our support groups (like Kids Circle) for people affected by cancer, click here

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