I've used this blog for several purposes. From extending those 'intrapersonal' discussions I carry within me during the day, to discussing the media industry and finally as a form of catharsis. This entry is of the cathartic persuasion.
This entry is for our son, Kenneth Edward Halliday IV.
We named Kenny after my father, Kenneth Edward Halliday III. Naming my firstborn son after my Dad is something I set my sights on as a child. When I was a boy, my sister and I took your typical sibling rivalry to unenviable levels. We coveted everything the other owned. And that included Matchbox cars, baseball cards and even Cabbage Patch dolls. You read correctly, I had a Cabbage Patch doll. If my sister was going to own one, I wasn't going to be left out.
My Mom bought me a boy doll (of course) that matched my brown hair and brown eyes. Without hesitation, I named him Ken. I held my father in such high regard even then. While I'm certain he wasn't particularly excited about having his son's plastic doll as a namesake, my father was quite honored on October 3, 2007.
That is the day our son was born. We had been calling him Kenny for months, but he was finally with us. However, his journey was not without struggle. Some of the most difficult moments Susan and I have or will ever face.
I was standing on a baseline at the Charleston Civic Center, filming a high school basketball game, when my wife called to tell me she was pregnant with our second child. Because I worked late shifts, I had to learn I was a father anew over the phone. She couldn't contain her excitement and I couldn't get home soon enough. I'll never forgive myself.
A few weeks later, standard blood screenings showed that our son could have Down Syndrome. A nurse told us, "Most of the time these screenings end up in negative results...so don't worry too much." Susan didn't worry; I was beside myself. I did research, sought advice and prepared.
On May 23, 2007, we saw specialists at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia. Our son had a clean bill of health. I felt ashamed for being so selfishly fearful and, honestly, I was quite relieved. I texted my father with the news and he replied, "Keep holding Sue's hand. You have a lot to be thankful for this day. Love Always, Dad" I still have that message saved in my phone.
It now serves as a reminder on just how thankful I truly should be.
Less than five months later on October 3rd, Kenny was born. And as Kenny entered the world, I sat teetering between joy and terror. I couldn't properly celebrate his arrival because I was scared I would lose him.
Kenny was born with a cancerous tumor that was slowly killing him.
Nearly a week before his birth, Susan and I went to a 'routine' ultrasound. As the radiologist went through her checklist, she came across a large and curious oval-shaped mass. It was so big on the screen, I asked if that was my son's head. She shook her head and excused herself from the room. Susan and I shrugged our shoulders. Shortly thereafter, we were taken into one of the exam rooms.
"There is no way to say this other than to come right out and say it. Your son has a tumor. A very large tumor on his kidney."
I was dumbfounded. A tumor meant cancer. I blurted out with, "How does an unborn child get cancer?" Susan was rock solid. Her mind was racing towards the future, what needed to be done, where do we go, etc. My mind was mush. I repeated, "Our son has cancer? How?" Susan turned to me and said, "That doesn't matter. The question is what do we do about it?" She was right. We don't question why we are challenged, we simply meet those challenges as best we can. Susan is always there to remind me of that.
Six days later, Kenny came into the world. After Susan urged him to fight, Kenny wailed to the heavens. I kept taking pictures of him in the operating room and would not take my eyes off of him. The staff told us the tumor had engulfed his entire right kidney and was roughly the size of a baseball...they estimated that the tumor weighed a pound. He weighed just over four pounds all together.
The tumor was so big, it was easily visible from a distance. The mass heaved in his abdomen with each breath like an ever-present nightmare. I was so fearful my time with him would be fleeting, I never wanted to leave him. I didn't want him to carry that nightmare alone.
But, we couldn't be with him. Our son, hampered by needles, IVs, monitors and wires was bound to the Henrico Doctors Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). We could sit with him, but only two at a time. To give our family members a chance to know him, I gave them my seat. I couldn't bear to be with him and I couldn't bear to be away from him.
I have never in my life felt more helpless.
Six days after his birth, Kenny went under the knife. The surgeon, Dr. Charles Bagwell, told us that Kenny's prognosis was 'pretty good.' Susan looked him in the eyes as the prepared Kenny for surgery and said, "Take care of our son, help him live. Bring him back to us." To Dr. Bagwell's credit, he looked my aching wife in the eyes and replied, "I promise I will." I wanted to believe him. I couldn't keep the tears at bay.
Then, they wheeled our son off to surgery.
It was the single worst moment I have ever experienced. I can not capture it in words. So many times I called out to God and begged him to allow me to suffer in my son's place. At that moment, I felt as if I had failed to protect that which I loved the most. That initial sense of helplessness spiraled downward towards hopelessness. Susan and I clung to each other and wept. The NICU staff stood by quietly. They had witnessed this scene so many times. That thought sent chills down my spine and straight into my soul.
Dr. Bagwell said the surgery could last anywhere from 90 minutes to 6 hours depending on the extent of the tumor. As a family, we went down to the hospital's cafeteria. I literally couldn't taste the food. My father sat to my right and kept a careful eye on me. He knew I wouldn't buckle, but I wasn't so sure. All I remember was silently staring at the wall and wondering if I would ever see my son alive again.
After lunch we came back up to the waiting room and I tried to prepare to wait. I was pacing the room. My father told me to relax. My mother read a magazine. Our pastors, Reverends Bob and Ruth Partlow, made small talk and sat with us. Their presence was so calming.
Just days before, they had held a private baptism for Kenny right there in the NICU at our request. Bob told me, "We aren't going to close the baptism because the second part of the service calls for the congregation to acknowledge and accept him. We'll do that part when this is all over and you bring Kenny to church. He's going to make it."
I will always cherish that.
Just as I was getting used to the pain of waiting, the phone rang. It was Kenny's nurse from surgery. They were done after 90 minutes and our son was alive and well. She told me the tumor weighed a little over a pound and had grown to the size of a softball. I cried and shook with emotion. We gathered for prayer and Bob couldn't get through it. Ruth finished his prayer. I was so touched by their emotional connection to our family. They were overjoyed for our son and for us.
Susan and I rushed to see him. His scar stretched from hip-to-hip and the sutures were intimidating. Looking at the pictures is still difficult for me.
Kenneth Edward Halliday IV was already stronger and tougher than his father would ever be. A cancer survivor at six days old.
He stayed in the hospital until we took him home on November 1st. His big sister Isabelle greeted him with love and curiosity. She kissed him and laughed as she stroked his head. She loved him instantly, just as we did. A sibling relationship born instinctively and instantaneously.
Last Friday, Kenny turned a year old. During a quiet family celebration, we sang to him and enjoyed his company. He laughed and babbled, playing games of Peek-A-Boo and smiling at everyone who met his glance.
He is the son I have always wanted. Sitting across from Isabelle, I watched as the two of them played together. It is the sort of moment you dream of when you picture what being a father is like. The love they share for each other and for us is based on the love we have for them.
Our love inspires them and their love inspires us.
When they removed the cancerous tumor, leaving him with only his left kidney, the doctors concurred that the Wilms tumor appeared to be benign, but that only time would tell. Every three months for the first three years of his life, Kenny will undergo either an MRI or an ultrasound to make sure the cancer doesn't return to attack his remaining kidney.
His life it seems will always hang in the balance. The threat of cancer is like a sword of Damocles over our heads when we discuss his health. We are at the beginning of a long journey, and possibly a long battle. But we are ready.
We are ready because we are motivated by our son.
His grip leaves my fingers sore and purple. He is impossible to tame. He is stronger than Isabelle was at his age and twice as adventurous. He will soon surpass his sister in height and already weighs more than she does. But he is gentle and sweet. His laugh is brilliant, his smile tender.
It is as if he knows that we only get one shot at life. Ken has taught me so much. About God, about the power of prayer, about the importance of family and friends, about love and about loss.
Thank you Kenny. Thank you for showing me how wonderful and precious life is and how powerful love can be.
Thank you son. Thank you for fighting and for inspiring me to fight. I am indebted to you.
Your mother and I will spend every moment of our lives working to improve yours. Just as my father and mother did for me.
When my father writes to me, he always ends his messages the same way. I carry that on now as I write to Kenneth Edward Halliday IV, our son and my inspiration.