Supermoms & Special Kids

With Mother’s Day approaching, we’re tipping our Harding Lane caps to all the moms and like-moms out there—true moms, chosen moms, mentors and more. And we’re thinking of those facing challenges above and beyond everyday feats, like families with children in treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Thirty-four years ago, Cheryl Richardson was one of those moms, when son Brandon was treated for an ultra-rare tumor. We asked her and daughter-in-law @caitlinhoustonblog (another mom we admire) to share how they give back for the future Brandon was granted at St. Jude.

Caitlin: My husband, Brandon, has very little memory of his diagnosis and treatment at St. Jude. He was only two years old when his mom first noticed his tiny belly protruding under a shirt.

Cheryl: His stomach was distended and very hard, so much so that we couldn’t zip his pants.  The next morning we called our local physician, and after a CAT scan we were immediately referred to St. Jude. There was a large tumor in his abdomen that looked cancerous. It was one of the longest days of my life.

Caitlin: The few moments he recalls from his stay at St. Jude were in a big room with lots of toys and children without hair.

Cheryl: St. Jude was six hours away and the drive seemed to take days. Upon arrival, we were greeted by such lovely people. My first steps into the building will never be erased from my memory. There were children everywhere with no hair and they were not crying or sad, but laughing and smiling. Games and toys...and all the nurses and doctors were smiling. How could this be?  I remember asking the nurse, “What if it is not cancer?” She hugged me and said, “Honey, we will be there for you all of the way.” I remember asking her about money, and she said that everything—treatment to hotel and food—would be taken care of, and all we had to do was focus on loving on our little one. I felt like this must be a little heaven here on earth.

After weeks of biopsies, they could not find a match for his tumor. They were going to go on and start treatment because it was growing so fast. On the morning of his first treatment, they got a call from the NIH in Bethesda that the tumor was a rare benign type—there had only been four in the world. They would be flying in a doctor who had operated on one of the others. We were advised that even though it was not cancerous it could still be life-threatening because of the size and the location. After surgery, the doctor and nurse met us in the waiting room. The nurse hugged me and said, “You got yourself a Christmas Miracle.”  We went back every six weeks for six months to make sure the tumor was not coming back, but Brandon has been healthy since.

Caitlin: He remembers being at home after his surgery and noticing his stitches on his belly—which is now a very lengthy scar running down the middle of his abdomen. Our daughters often touch the scar and ask him questions about the time he was sick when he was little. He’s very passionate about St. Jude, donating to every fundraiser at the grocery store or online. He believes it’s so important to give back to the place that saved his life. Our daughters are now past the age he was when he first entered St. Jude, and we cannot help but imagine the fear his parents felt so long ago. His mom’s account of the kindness of his medical team, the gentleness with which they cared for her son, touches our hearts—and we want to be able to help fund the hospital’s research and the care they give to children every day.

Cheryl: We make annual contributions to St. Jude, and there is a plaque on the wall in a wing of St. Jude in Brandon’s honor, which his father has been back to visit and see. We participate in fundraisers whenever given an opportunity, and encourage friends and family to contribute to the wonderful place that changed our lives.

Caitlin: One of our favorite fundraisers is our daughters’ preschool’s annual St. Jude Trike-a-Thon. My daughters ask family and friends to donate in honor of their dad, then ride their tricycles at the school for an hour, ringing the bells on their handlebars, to honor the children at St. Jude. It’s such an incredible feeling knowing the donations we collect will help a family. We also spread word on Dudley Stephens’ fundraisers, especially the DS Gives blanket with 100% of retail sales going towards their goal of $100,000 for St. Jude.

My husband says St. Jude will always hold a place in his heart as a symbol of hope, generosity—and ultimately the reason he survived a rare tumor. We have told our daughters about St. Jude, a wonderful hospital filled with incredible people who help children who are sick and work hard to find cures. We hope they continue to find ways to donate to the hospital throughout their lives and will teach them through example.

Cheryl: I like to think of the hospital as God's hands there to help at a time that was so life-altering. The nurse’s quote to me on our first day is exactly what the hospital was for me. Everything was taken care of so I could focus on my child. I hope that all others who visit there can feel that peace in a moment of such turmoil.