It’s tough being a kid.
Try being a kid who’s never known a life without constant surgeries, followup visits, MRIs, out-of-town trips to consult with specialists, and the understanding that — if what the doctors say is true — the struggle to keep your body whole will likely walk with you for the rest of your life.
For local kids David Bailey, Maddy Gamble and Jase Gibbs — each facing a chronic and potentially life-threatening illness — it was time for a break Thursday.
To their (and their families’) delight, Cullman Walmart employees had already arranged a pretty awesome itinerary, starting with an ovation as they walked the local store and ending, more than two hours later, when they helped steer big rigs into the Walmart dispatch office two miles down the road.
Sponsored by Walmart Heart, a volunteer program designed to honor kids with chronic illnesses, the day out gave each child a ton of swag, a $150 store shopping spree, an official Walmart truck driver’s uniform and the chance to get behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler — with a little help from their grown-up mentors.
Cullman-based trucker and Walmart Heart founding member Phillip Hargrove, whose own family has experienced a scare from a cancer diagnosis, said adults often marvel at the children’s strength and optimism.
“They give us so much more than we give them,” said Hargrove. “Days like this, where we try to take them away from everything and just let them and their parents have some fun — it’s really the least we can do for these kids. But we’re always thrilled to see their faces when they come in and realize this day is all about them.”
They need a day. These aren’t kids with stuffy noses and aching tummies.
David has Burkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Maddy has Epithelioid sarcoma, an extremely rare soft tissue disease. Jase, the youngest at age 4, was born with malignant dermoid cyst teratoma — and a congenital defect that revealed three holes in his heart.
“Two years ago, we also found out he has a blood disorder — Spherocytosis,” added Jase’s mom, Cecilia Gibbs. “His body basically rejects his blood. He has his good days and his bad days. Every three to six months, we’re in some doctor’s office, always getting something checked. We’ve been to St. Jude’s in Huntsville; Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. It’s been his whole life.”
“Awareness” is one of those words that has taken on a mundane significance for many whose lives haven’t been directly affected by cancer. But for these children’s families, there’s an urgency behind their constant effort to change that.
They’re vigilant in the ongoing mission to keep the public informed; to raise funds; to stay positive and sell themselves and their communities on the hope that — given enough time, money and attention, these diseases can be cured.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate — we’ve learned that. It doesn’t care what color you are; it doesn’t care your age,” said Kerri Gamble, Maddy’s mother. “But she never complains. Their bodies are battling inside — and we’ve met a lot of kids at hospitals who’ve lost their battles. But she’s involved; she’s knowledgeable; and she goes about it with a good attitude. The way she handles it is really an inspiration to us.”
* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.