William Christopher Caldwell
“I hope your child never has cancer” are tough advertisements for me to watch over and over during the Dodger games. Children’s Hospital has become one of the more prominent Dodger sponsors on SportsNetLA. The children in the photos are all too familiar to me and every time I see the commercials it just reminds of the children who didn’t survive.
A few weeks ago I went to a game with David Young and Jay Stalling. Dave and I got there early enough they were doing the first pitch ceremony. The ball was going to be thrown out by a child with Leukemia. They tried to put on a good face, but eventually, the mother simply started crying. Unknown to David I was dying inside. I don’t pray, it seems like a useless endeavor, but I do hope, and I hoped that mother would have a better ending for her son than my best friends son.
I first wrote about William for TrueBlueLA back on Sept 05, 2007. It was one of the first things I ever wrote about. No one read TBLA at the time, and no one reads this blog so it seems like a perfect time to write about him today because those commercials and that game have put him back into my mind.
I’m not a deeply emotional person, very surface oriented, nothing really hit me in my heart over my lifetime until I was 46 when my best friend’s son died of Leukemia at the age of four. Byron and I had done many things together since we first met at work when he became my boss around 1987. Softball, old man basketball, scuba diving, river rafting, skiing, two-man beach volleyball, you name the sport we did it together. He was the best man at my wedding, I was the best man at his wedding. We did most of that before he got married, but after that, it was pretty much just weekly softball. Byron got married late in life but with a younger wife was able to start a family just about from the get go. We don’t have children and for whatever reasons, we didn’t really bond with Byron’s family. I would see the children when he brought them to the softball games, but that was about the extent of our interaction. Not having children of our own, his wife being much younger than my wife, it just didn’t happen.
That all changed the spring of 2004. Byron called to tell me that his oldest son William had been diagnosed with Leukemia and as you’d expect was very shaken up about it. His wife worked at Cedars-Sinai as a nurse so William was going to get the best care and treatment. We talked for a long time, and he asked me if would get tested to see if I could donate platelets for William. I eagerly agreed because I’d have done anything to help. At this point, my rare interactions with William were when Byron brought him to the softball games or the occasional social gathering. We had never bonded as sometimes friends do with their best friends children. Given what Byron had told me I was very confident at the time that William would beat this and live a long life. I got tested and was lucky enough to be a perfect match for donating platelets to William. I don’t remember why, but neither his parents nor sisters were able to do so. They have strict requirements for being able to donate and evidently the chaste life I lived had helped me. No sex outside of marriage, no tattoos, no drugs, no smoking. Hey, I was finally going to get rewarded for being Mr. Boring.
As he started his chemo treatments I marched to Cedars-Sinai to do my bit. They had wasted no time, as soon as he been diagnosed he was undergoing chemo. I was lucky enough at the time to be working at home as a consultant and go could to the hospital whenever they needed me. Turns out they needed me a lot. Each time I went I’d visit William in the cancer center and at first, the meeting was awkward. The first few times I just sat there with him. He didn’t say anything I didn’t offer much small talk. I had talked Byron into letting him watch the Pixar movie Monsters. At first being only four they felt it was too much for him but they relented and on my second visit I popped it in the DVD and watched it with him. He laughed and laughed and laughed and once it was over we were best friends. We watched that video just about every day I visited and then we’d play with his toys on his bed, take a walk around the cancer center. They were both the best and worst days of my life. Byron had just started a new job the exact same day his son had been diagnosed so he’d do the night visits and I’d do the day visits. With his mom working at the hospital and her numerous sisters he rarely went without someone being with him. Once the first chemo round was done, he got to go home, and this time, we made sure we were part of their family. I had fallen for the boy and I wasn’t about to lose that connection.
Months passed and more rounds of chemo kept coming at him. I had built up this image in my mind that I was helping save him with my super platelets cause each time he got my platelets they said his cell count improved. One day in December they declared him in remission and he had been approved for a bone marrow transplant. He and his sister came to our softball game and after the game, we took this photo after we had been playing in the playground for a long while after the game.
That photo was the happiest day of my life. Shortly after that, leukemia came back harder than the first time. They couldn’t’ do the bone marrow transplant therapy unless he was in remission. Things went from optimistic to hopeless so fast my head was spinning.
Make a Wish came through and took William and his family up to the snow at Big Bear. With all his extended family around and adult family friends we romped in the snow, but he was simply too sick to do anything but watch. At one point Byron needed to put him down and several sisters reached for him, but he reached out for me. I held him so tenderly because I knew his whole body was wracked with pain. I’ve never felt so deeply as I felt at that moment.
The ride home with my wife was the saddest two hours I’d had. Within a few weeks of that event, William passed away. I wrote this to everyone I knew who had known Bryon.
William Christopher Caldwell passed away last night at
09:21. His bravery the last nine months will never be
forgotten and he will be greatly missed by family and
friends. William’s candle only burned for 4 1/2 years
but it was a bright flame and the world will be a
sadder place without him in it. I only hope his smile
and laughter will stay in my memory and not be taken
away by time.
Time has taken it away. I can barely remember what we did when I visited. That time was such a blur, my mind was rarely focused. It stayed that way for several years. Byron was able to undo a Vasectomy that he’d gotten after his 2nd child. Amazingly they quickly conceived and even before William had passed away we had gotten news that Carmen was pregnant again. Eventually, they would have two more children which certainly helped them with their loss. They moved away from Los Angeles, away from the memories and started a new life in Kansas City, Kansas where Byron was from. We don’t stay in touch but maybe once a year but we were so close that it is as though no times has passed at all.
It turns out for me that was a once in a lifetime bonding and I’m much richer and sadder for it.
I echo the mantra of the CHS commercials. “I hope your child never has cancer”. I also hope any child you are close too never has cancer. I hope that mother I saw that day at the game can cry tears of joy when she finds out her son’s remission is complete and she can hold him again without fear of it being the last time she ever gets to hold him.