My daughter, Kate, threw out a first ball before yesterday’s Red Sox-White Sox game at Fenway Park. Kate has leukemia.
Kate and 6-year-old Philip Doyle of Weymouth, another Jimmy Fund patient, were first-ball tossers for the Sox’ second annual Kids Opening Day. I cannot speak for the Doyles, but I expect yesterday they felt very much like my wife and myself.
Watching Kate walk to the mound, I thought about all the bad times she’s endured in the last five months. I thought about the spinal taps, bone marrows, MRIs, bone scans, collapsed IV lines and surgeries. I remember the empty halls of Children’s Hospital when Kate had surgery Christmas Eve. It was a big deal to get Kate home for three hours Christmas morning. And now she’s out there throwing the high heater to Dave Valle in front of 34,501 at Fenway Park.
Life changed for Kate Nov. 26. It was the day after Thanksgiving, the day of the Boston College-West Virginia game. It was the day my wife and I sat side-by-side on a conference room couch on the sixth floor of Children’s Hospital and heard Dr. Kenneth Cooke say, “Your daughter has leukemia.”
Kate has standard risk, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I’m told it happens to one out of every 1,580 caucasian children under the age of 15. Kate is 8 and played her full soccer schedule last fall. At the end of the season, she complained of sharp lower back pain. We took her to our family health clinic. The doctor ordered a blood test and sent her home with Advil. Then there was a phone call, a trip to the emergency room at Children’s, and, by nightfall, we knew.
Bad things happen to all of us. This is not fair to Kate, but it’s something we’ve all had to learn to deal with. My wife and I are thankful we live in Boston, thankful it is 1994, and thankful for our families and wonderful friends. December and January were especially cold and scary, but I still get a warm feeling when I remember the love and care showered on our home in the days and weeks after Kate was diagnosed. Ever seen homemade lasagnas stacked like cordwood?
“It’s just like the old days,” Kate’s grandmother would say after another neighbor put some food on our doorstep.
A week after she was diagnosed, Ted Williams called Kate in the hospital. Kate knows nothing about old-time baseball stars. She held the phone a few inches from her ear and said, “Daddy, there’s a loud man on the phone, telling me I’m going to be OK.”
She passed the phone to me and Ted Williams bellowed, “Dr. Sidney Farber used to tell me, ‘Ted, we’re going to find a way to cure these kids.’ Sure enough, he did it. You tell your daughter she’s going to be fine. Tell her I’ll come visit her.”
Ted Williams was the star of the Red Sox when the Jimmy Fund got rolling in 1948. When the Braves moved from Boston in 1953, Tom Yawkey made the Jimmy Fund the Red Sox’ official charity, and Teddy Ballgame became keeper of the flame. Ted’s only sibling, his brother Danny, died of leukemia in 1960. Ted never stopped working for his favorite charity. Meanwhile, Dr. Farber pioneered treatment of cancer in children.
It was the late Edward Bennett Williams who first told me, “The cure is worse than the cancer.” In dramatic lore, it is known as chemotherapy, but the real names of some of the drugs are methotrexate, 6 mercaptopurine, vincristine, and dexamethasone. Some of this stuff is administered at home and its power and potency is underscored by the toxic spill kit that comes with the medicine. Kate is scheduled to have chemotherapy for two years.
Each Tuesday is Kate’s Jimmy Fund clinic day, and the Red Sox are all over the place. John Harrington cut one of the ribbons this winter when the new clinic was dedicated. There’s a Carl Yastrzemski treatment room. There’s a Ted Williams mural, and one of his silver bats -- right next to the Robert K. Kraft blood donor center. Former Sox second baseman Mike Andrews is executive director of the Jimmy Fund, and Rose Lonborg, wife of Cy Young winner Jim, volunteers her time to make the clinic visits less painful and more fun.
One of our lasting impressions of this horrible experience is the innate goodness of people. The nurses of 7-West cared for our Kate as if she were their own daughter. Kate’s teachers, coaches and friends have done everything to make her feel comfortable and included.
Individuals who’ve been roughed up in this column have called and written to lend support. Dave Gavitt. Lou Gorman. Billy Sullivan. Jim O’Brien. Joe Morgan. Chris Ford. Cam Neely. Adam Oates. Glen Wesley. Mo Vaughn. Larry Bird. Bill Walton. John Blue. In the dugout before yesterday’s first pitch, Butch Hobson came over with bubblegum for the whole family. Even me. These sports professionals are fathers and brothers and uncles. They know there is the stuff we do every day . . . and then there is the important stuff.
You should have seen the look on the face of the guy who drives the Federal Express truck when a large package arrived at our door from Katy, Texas. The driver saw the names “Clemens” and “Shaughnessy” and suggested we check to see if the thing was ticking. It was a giant white teddy bear. Kate calls her “Clementine.”
And yesterday she stood on the mound where Roger Clemens stood Friday night.
There are no guarantees. We pray that Kate stays the course and some day is cured. We know there are many families far worse off than ours. But most of all we watch Kate, and enjoy the good days after so many bad ones. She is strong and smart and -- without hair -- more beautiful than ever.
She says she plans to be Charlie Brown next Halloween. I love that. Kate and Charlie Brown. Same pitching motion. Same haircut.
Those who wish to help fight cancer in children can send checks to The Jimmy Fund, 375 Longwood Ave. Boston, Mass., 02215.