Everyday Heroes:

Close Shave

by Colleen Saxey

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    The future looked rough for Chris. But his friends knew how to make it smoother.

    The doctor’s words, “Chris, you have a tumor. Chris, you have cancer,” sent waves of shock, fear, and despair through me. I had felt sure the lump was a hernia or maybe a swollen lymph node, but it was not.

    After my 15-year-old son’s diagnosis, events happened very quickly. The following morning we were at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City for more CT scans, a bone scan, an MRI, a bone marrow aspiration, and a tumor biopsy. The news was not good. Chris had a small tumor on his pelvis near his left thigh. It was diagnosed as Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Chemotherapy was scheduled to begin the next week.

    As a nurse, I knew what we were in for medically. But I never expected the overwhelming fear and gloom that came over me. Those feelings soon changed, however.

    Chris wasn’t even home from the hospital a day when his friends Ben Williams, Ben Brookes, and Jeremy Lamb picked him up so they could go to another friend’s house to watch videos and eat. That by itself calmed me. They were doing normal teenage things, and I was so relieved to see them not treating Chris any differently. I later found out the boys didn’t even talk about Chris’s cancer. “Why should they?” Chris asked.

    When the chemotherapy began, so did the inevitable side effects, including hair loss. I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but it did—probably more than it bothered Chris. At first, there was hair on his pillow. Then it was in the sink. Finally, Chris shaved off what hair was left. Later that afternoon with Chris napping on the couch, the two Bens and Jeremy knocked at the door. As they came in, they doffed their hats to show Chris their cleanly shaved heads. They laughed together and watched a video of them all shaving each other’s heads.

    “Now I wasn’t the only one with a shaved head. I just had the smoothest,” explained Chris.

    A few days later at school, the four boys were walking down the hallway when a girl said, “They look like they have cancer.” Alone, that remark could have been devastating. Together, they just laughed about it.

    One Sunday, as my husband and I sat in fast and testimony meeting with Chris’s older brother, Jeremy, fear continued to engulf me. Chris had been hospitalized again with a fever and low blood counts. We were new in our ward, and very few people knew of Chris’s condition. As I listened half-heartedly, a high councilman stood at the pulpit to bear his testimony. He talked about his love for some of the youth he’d met in another ward in our stake. He talked about how three of the priests there had shaved their heads for a friend who had cancer. Then his voice broke slightly when he said, “That boy lives in our ward now and is my home teacher.

    “I wonder,” he continued, “if our youth would be that supportive.” The challenge was taken and met. That afternoon, our ward was graced by several very bald young men, including Chris’s older brother, Jeremy.

    “One Sunday before sacrament meeting we were all lined up, and all of us were bald. The congregation just laughed,” Chris said.

    Since that time, both the young men and young women of our ward continued to support Chris and our family. During one particularly hard hospitalization, friends traveled an hour to visit him and cheer him up. Two days after he came home, they picked him up and took him out for all-you-can-eat pizza.

    Each day the young men of the ward would gather at the Owenses’ home across the street from us. They are the only ones with a usable basketball court, and the young men would come to play ball. As I watched out the window as they played, Chris would sometimes stop playing and just sit on the grass with some of the younger kids who had gathered and laugh with them as they’d steal his hat and rub his smooth head. “Even though it was my hardest summer, it was also my funnest,” said Chris.

    And the love and support didn’t stop. Last September after church, we noticed a crowd of young men, young women, children, and their leaders walking toward our door. As they filled our small living room, they surprised Chris with a homemade quilt and pillow. The blocks of the quilt were each designed by different young women or young men with their own well-wishes, jokes, and funny pictures. They asked Chris to take the quilt and pillow with him to the hospital so he could be reminded of them and their love.

    “The comments and pictures on the quilt made me laugh,” said Chris. “When I saw them coming up our driveway, I thought it must be some kind of activity, and I wondered why I hadn’t been told about it. It was a neat thing for them to do.”

    After the young people had presented the quilt, the Sambongis, our neighbors from Japan, gave Chris his gift, a sembazuru, which translated means 1,000 paper cranes. The Sambongis told Chris that in Japan, cranes are said to live as long as 1,000 years, and that a paper crane will take away sickness when it flies away. They also gave him a note:

    “Dear Chris, These paper cranes were made by a lot of people, including people in our ward and those you have never met before. We all pray for your recovery, and may the Lord bless you.”

    The Lord has blessed us—with good neighbors, friends, professionals, and especially strong, loving young men and young women. And Chris knows it too.

    The youth and the leaders of the Orem Sharon Park Third Ward, and Chris’s three friends from the Sixth Ward have been great. Their kindness and thoughtfulness during a very painful and difficult time has helped much more than they’ll ever know.

    Close describes more than the haircuts his friends got to show support for Chris. Close describes how everyone pulled together to help him through a tough time. (Illustrated by Roger Motzkus.)

    A quick family photo taken just before Chris’s hair was shaved; a bunch of “baldies” huddle with pro quarterback Steve Young.

    At a Mutual gathering, close friends surround Chris; the Sambongis present 1,000 paper cranes, a symbol of hope and healing.