Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reo's Award

March 5, 2009
Subject: Reo’s Award

A few hours ago, I received a phone call from the Chase Youth Commission letting me know that Reo is going to be awarded with the Chase Youth Award for Courage! He'll be receiving a letter in the next few days letting him know that he's been nominated but I've been asked to keep it hush-hush that he's actually won. They want that to be a total surprise at the award ceremony in 2 weeks. I've been encouraged to build up the suspense and so forth. I'm also going to be talking to him about why I nominated him and what the award actually means. The Mayor of Spokane will be presenting him with the award and he'll receive a letter from our governor as well so I'll be talking to him about all of those things too. Pretty big deal stuff for my little guy!

I'm busting with pride as you can well imagine but more than that I'm incredibly tearful. I was telling my Goddesses that the concept of 'shadow survivor' has haunted me from the moment I read it and I want to make sure, as much as I possibly can, that what's happened to Aria leaves as minimal a mark on Reo as possible. I also wanted to generate an opportunity to explain to those on the outside of pediatric cancer that siblings are in great need of attention too and that the importance of healing can not only be measured in lab results and medical procedures. The healing we gain from each other is powerful and often beyond the realm of understanding and reason. This is what Reo has done....

I've included a copy of his nomination letter in case you didn't get a chance to read it the first time! Hip-hip-hooray for Reo!! ~j

It is a great honor for me to sit and write about my son, Reo D. Layton who is 7years old and a first grader at Medical Lake Elementary School. Reo is an average little boy. He is neither a gifted student nor athlete. He has not rallied his peers for some community cause nor has he faced personal hardship that he’s found creative ways of overcoming. Reo spends his days like any other egocentric kid. Yet, he is extraordinary.

In January 2008, Reo’s little sister, Aria, was diagnosed with leukemia. Suddenly our family was thrown into a world filled with desperation, fear, crisis, anxiety and unknowns. Reo and Aria were very close playmates and overnight he saw her completely change. She spent days lying in a hospital bed with IV cords. She screamed in pain, begging for help, terrified much of the time. Reo did not comfort her outwardly. He didn’t stroke her hair or rub her back. But he did ride on her bed every time she needed an x-ray or when she was returning from surgery. He did tell her again and again, “It’s going to be ok Aria.” She believed him and so did I. He did pick out movies for her to watch and together they watched more television than I care to think about. He did entertain their baby sister, finding toys for her and ways to keep her occupied when we were quarantined to our room.

When Aria was released from the hospital and we began our life of outpatient treatments, Reo never missed an appointment, wanting only to be with Aria. In those first few months, our clinic appointments would last several hours, and although the waiting area and playrooms are exceptionally fun and kid friendly, Reo often sat on the sidelines and waited with patience, the likes of which I have never seen in a young child. He quietly watched and took everything in. I can’t remember a time that he complained or whined about wanting to leave and trust me, he had every reason to complain. He heard “just-a-minute” or “wait your turn” or “hang on” countless times. We learned that siblings of children with cancer are often called “Shadow Survivors”. This is a heart-wrenching reality and every parent I know does their best to make certain their other children aren’t left on the back burner. I remember feeling haunted by the idea of ‘shadow survivor’ and knew that if Reo had a role to play, the inclusion he felt would be immensely empowering in a very powerless situation. Reo became instrumental in helping us all celebrate the simple little mundane things of every day life. Suddenly eating a meal together was worthy of attention. Reading books, watching movies, telling stories, acting out movie characters, reviewing his school work, and helping with household chores became peaceful highlights in exceedingly stressful times.

It took over 10 months before Aria regained her strength, stamina and real desire for play that she once had. Reo stayed by her side and remained a silent presence that gave her healing comfort that I will never fully understand. Aria has had to go to the ER a number of times this past year and Reo has been with her all but once and that experience was revealing. His first grade teacher called to tell me that he was not himself and was worrying himself sick that “Aria is at the hospital. She’s ok but I’m not there with her.” We picked him up early from school that day and the brightness he brought into her room was blinding. The brilliance of their smiles and the relief they felt being together was breathtaking to witness. I don’t know that we can quantify the power of this kind of healing.

Reo is an exceptional young person worthy of a Chase Youth Award. He reminds us that sometimes the greatness of a person is the gift of their presence in relishing the ordinary things of life despite extraordinary circumstances.
Sincerely, Julia M. Hayes

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