words by Winnie (R. T. Winn, M.D.)
They sat in a high-backed overstuffed chair near the rear of the Snow Park Lodge at the bottom of the iconic Deer Valley Resort…two five-year-olds playing an iPhone game under the watchful eye of the young girl’s mother. The mother was sitting opposite them in her own overstuffed chair. An older sibling, dressed in ski gear, walked over to her younger sister and kissed her gently on the top of her head. The younger sister didn’t look up. She had just received the iPhone from her friend and was too busy trying to win the game. The older sister, who I guessed to be about ten, returned to the other chair and plopped onto her mother’s lap. She began removing her ski boots.
The scene was as warm as the fire raging in the large, holiday-decorated, stone fireplace behind the family. It looked, given the kids were playing on an iPhone rather than with an old toy or a game antedating technology, like a modern Christmas season painting. “A Winter Day’s End,” my mind named it.
There was, however, a striking difference from an artist’s rendition of a typical holiday snapshot. The mother’s forehead lines were tense, and her eyes revealed that sleep had not been a frequent visitor. And though the boy on the chair looked like a typical five-year-old whose rosy red cheeks were his most prominent feature, the girl lacked hair, had pale skin seemingly untouched by the sun in a long time, and, when the phone wasn’t in her hands, she frequently closed her eyes as if taking a brief nap.
The young girl’s name was Harper. When she was a mere four years old, she had been diagnosed with a life-threatening form of blood cancer, A…L…L (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). Since her treatments included multiple long hospitalizations and powerful chemotherapy, Harper frequently found herself lacking the abundant energy of an average child her age. She also had to be extremely careful to avoid crowds since her disease and its treatment often left her immune system less effective in fighting even common germs. Which was why Harper and her family were beyond-words joyful to attend this event... Harper’s doctors had given her permission to leave the hospital on a pass so she could spend a day with her family being “almost normal” while lending a hand toward the eradication of blood cancers.
Bryan, a two-time Olympic athlete who had survived A…L…L when he was a child, tapped my shoulder from behind. I turned in his direction. “The rest of our team is finally here, Winnie. Should we go upstairs to the reception?”
“Yes,” I replied, “but first I want to introduce you to someone.”
I guided Bryan toward the overstuffed chair holding Harper and her friend. I nodded at the mother. She nodded back knowingly, and then joined us at the arm of her daughter's chair.
“Harper,” her mother said, “This is Bryan Fletcher.” Since it wasn’t Harper’s turn on the iPhone, she looked up at Bryan. "He had A…L…L when he was your age, just like you. And now, he is an Olympian!” Harper’s mother’s forehead lines were no longer pulled tight and her eyes no longer looked tired.
Harper didn’t say a word. But a smile stretched from ear-to-ear and the excitement she radiated was warmer than the roaring fire. Bryan knelt on one knee so as to be on the same level as the young girl. He shook Harper’s hand with both of his.
When I glanced at Harper’s mother, she was wiping the corner of her left eye with the back of her hand.
I did the same.
Show love and compassion for those like Harper who are battling cancer by supporting Shred for Red.
Shred for Red, a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraiser graciously hosted by Deer Valley Resort, is an event that raises monies to help eradicate blood cancers. It not only brings community members together, it educates them about their diseases.
Please join us at Deer Valley Resort on December 12 to help “shred” blood cancers while skiing Utah’s “Greatest Snow on Earth®.” Alternately, sign up virtually to help us put an end to blood cancer once and for all!
All “Shred for Red” proceeds go directly to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to support every facet of patient care and the research that leads to revolutionary new treatments and medicines.
Additionally, “Shred for Red” strives to give our patients hope in times of difficulty, just like Bryan did with Harper. Registration is free and can be found here.If you are interested in learning more about Shred For Red before you sign up please join us for our virtual kick-off on November 12th at 5:30 PM. Please RSVP here.
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