A gift of hope

This has been a most trying week for your good friend, Sarah. (Oh no, there she goes referring to herself in third person again – a sure sign that she’s lost her mind.) We’ve had insurance issues that cannot get resolved, life issues that keep mounting, and, of course, the “usual” rigor of putting Ben through another round grueling therapy meant to save his life. Besides the last issue, which will always take precedence over the other “crap,” the other stuff can simply piss off. For as of this morning, I’ve lost another dear friend to the evil and dreaded cancer.

I met John Enterline 13 years ago while I was working as an HR manager for CorporateOne Federal Credit Union in Columbus, Ohio. It was the last “official job” I held before my two-year-old son was diagnosed with stage IV Neuroblastoma. Despite being in the position for only nine months, my co-workers remain an important part of my family to this day. They came to Ben’s bedside during those first critical weeks. They called, sent emails, provided food, visited, cried with and pledged their undying support to me and my family. It was one of the only places I’ve ever worked that had a true love and respect for their employees. Their support has never wavered – even after Ben’s 11 years of relapse after relapse.

While I cannot think of a single co-worker without anything but loving kindness, John stands out above the rest. I knew him to be a fairly quiet man; a constant observer. He had a kind heart, and we would often chat about boring life stuff in the kitchen each morning as I was making my instant grits. (Don’t judge… I’m 1/2 Southern, which is why I like grits, and 1/2 Northern, which is why they’re allowed to be instant grits.) Regardless, I enjoyed my morning chats with John. We had a love of photography in common, so that was often a point of discussion.

When Ben was diagnosed with cancer, John presented me with a small gift-wrapped box. As he placed it in my hands, he clasped his hands around mine and said “Please give this gift to Ben when he turns 18.” Ben was two years old at the time, and 18 seemed so far away. Tears streamed down my cheeks because I felt it was highly unlikely that my son was going to see his 18th birthday. At least, according to his doctors. I knew that Ben had less than a 20% chance of long-term survival. John knew that, too. And while I was buying what the doctors were telling me – that I would lose my son well before he had the chance to turn 18 – John chose to hold on to hope.

I promised John that I would. I took the small box, gift-wrapped in a shiny, vibrant green foil, and put it away.

Over the years I’ve moved it from place to place, from Ohio to Colorado and wherever else my road has taken me over the last decade. I’ve let Ben hold the package, knowing that he has this box to look forward to opening when he turns 18. I let John know a couple of years ago that Ben was really looking forward to that day, and he said “Awwww, I hope he’s not too excited. The gift really isn’t that big of a deal.” I immediately disagreed and told him that it didn’t matter what was inside. The contents were insignificant. The love surrounding it was the important part and Ben was the sort of kiddo who would fully appreciate that.

Then, my friend John learned he had cancer himself. Shortly after his diagnosis, he reached out to me. He told me that he was in awe of Ben – now more than ever – because John was experiencing first hand the horrors of cancer therapy. He wondered how a child could be subjected to the same harsh therapies that adults were receiving. And the fact that Ben had been in treatment for over 11 years was stunning to him. He told me in a note that “it’s just not fair” and that he was still praying for Ben. Always one to think of others, that friend of mine.

Not too long ago, I received a message from him stating “Ben is my hero!!! You can tell Ben that I’ve been praying for him and he has my love and admiration.” Shortly after receiving this message, my CorporateOne family let me know that he was struggling. Two days ago, my friend told me that he had lost consciousness. His once fidgety movements had gone still. He most likely only had hours left.

I thought hard about John as I was walking with Ben through mid-town Manhattan yesterday. We’ve just finished up the last of this particular study and are now in the stressful moments of awaiting the scanning process, praying that there’s no cancer hiding in my son’s body. I took Ben’s hand and let him know that the friend who had given him that shiny green package so many years ago was getting ready to leave us. He closed his eyes. I have no idea what my child was thinking at that time, but I’m sure he was sending John all the loving energy he could muster.

As we carried on with our journey toward the Ronald McDonald House, I looked toward the East River and saw the most magnificent sunset reflected in a mirrored building. I thought about how much John would have liked that… I bet he would have had his camera at the ready, wanting to capture it and share it with everyone else. I smiled through the heartache, hoping he felt my love surrounding him.

I woke up this morning to a text message stating that John had left us around 6:45 this morning with his nephew by his side. He left behind many adoring friends and family, a collection of stunning photographs he’s taken, kind words to a heart-broken mother begging for her child’s life to be spared…

And a shiny green box filled with hope for my son.

All my love to my CorporateOne Family, John’s family and friends. I’m so sorry for this devastating loss.

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