Jim Jenkins

Cancer-stricken child’s bald head may provide a lesson in understanding

Some day, we hope, he’ll show them all. Yes, some day, 30 years hence maybe, he’ll be running a corporation, or be a governor or senator, or a famous actor maybe, or a scientist.

And the ones who know him now, who know him as the little boy with the port in his chest, who’s lost his hair and is in the hospital a lot, will be happy to boast that they knew him way back, that they used to play with him on swings and run with him.

But now ... now it is very hard.

A Facebook post last week was from a father fed up, frustrated by the other kids making fun of his son’s bald head, the consequence of drug therapy from treatment for leukemia. A year it’s been now, and the little fellow has been an inspiration to all who know him, or even know of him.

He’s just a toddler. And yes, thanks to the doctors and nurses and technicians and laboratory scientists at Duke Medicine, he will, by God and prayer and hope, grow to childhood and one day, he will be free of disease. Once it would have been hopeless, but no longer. No longer.

But the treatment is hard, and it takes away some of the carefree days of childhood. And it makes him feel bad. And it is the only thing his parents think about.

And then there was what happened that prompted the Facebook post. Some other kids, perhaps oblivious to the cruelty of their own words, perhaps without guidance from their parents, perhaps because, well, they’re just kids and entitled to not know any better, made fun of his bald head.

It made his father mad and it should have, as it would have any parent.

Peter Yarrow, of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, wasn’t thinking of the little guy when he co-founded Operation Respect some years ago, but the sentiments behind the organization (operationrespect.org) are applicable. It encourages parents and educational groups and all in the community of humankind for that matter to teach children not to bully or ridicule others. Toward that end, Operation Respect helps schools and anyone who asks.

Yarrow sings a song, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” that came to mind when the little boy’s Dad popped up on Facebook. One part of the song, which talks about kids who are in some way hindered by their differences or handicaps, goes, “Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names, don’t get your pleasure from my pain; in God’s eyes we’re all the same, some day we’ll all have perfect wings; don’t laugh at me.”

Our little guy, despite his fight, can be the merriest kid you’ve ever seen, and on the good days his dad has posted happy scenes of him running with all his might, running like everyone else.

But other days he spends at Duke, where the people are universally compassionate and wise. That helps, but it doesn’t take away the discomfort.

Those other kids will know better one day. Let’s hope maybe they told their parents and got some lessons in kindness and understanding. It’s never too early to teach it, or to learn it.

It’s the kind of teaching that could be used as a moment to change their lives forever. It’s happened. At schools at all levels, groups of friends have been known to shave their heads in support of a friend or acquaintance going through chemotherapy, and it’s been a defining moment for them.

And the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which began with a small group more than 15 years ago, holds events where people raise contributions in exchange for having their heads shaved. Millions of dollars have been raised, and the events are ongoing throughout spring and summer, including here in the Triangle. (It can be Googled easily enough, and goes by the handle of http://www.stbaldricks.org/)

In the meantime, this little guy carries on, and he will. Love and prayer and hope surround him like armies. And those in that circle know, must know, have to make themselves know, that yes, someday, he will show them all. Maybe he will participate himself in a St. Baldrick’s event, and have a story from long ago to tell all the others, about when he was a little boy who kept the faith, and helped restore it in others.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com