“Boo!” came the jolt as I turned to get out of my car, followed by a giggling laugh as a little red cap darted away across the yard atop Kaleb Boothe’s head, followed closely by a happy black dog named Bubba. Kaleb seemed to be feeling great.
“He really hasn’t let it get him down,” Kaleb’s mom, Marcie, told me. “People always ask how he’s feeling, and assume he just lays on the couch. But, he’s really kept his spirits and energy up through it all.”
In May of this year, just after the end of school, Marcie said they thought he was having allergy troubles and took him to the doctor for what didn’t seem like a serious thing. “They kept looking in his eyes. It was one of those things where they took so long you knew something had to be wrong,” she recalled, “And then they told us there was something behind his eye making it bulge out. They said we needed to go to Children’s right then for a scan. We got there in what seemed like 30 minutes.” Hours later came the news: Kaleb had cancer.
Soon he was in surgery to have the mass behind his eye removed. Despite not yet knowing for sure what type of cancer it was, the doctors did know that it didn’t belong there, and a biopsy alone was almost pointless. Then in mid June he started radiation treatments, and a few weeks later he started chemotherapy.
As his hair inevitably began to fall out, Kaleb began to complain of the plastic adjustment strap on the back of his hat rubbing his head. “It irritated him, and it would pull clumps of hair out at a time,” Marcie remembered, “So, we bought him that little red ball cap that was fitted – I think it’s a size small – and he hasn’t taken it off much since. He even sleeps in it!” She added that the one time he went to have his scans done to check on progress and wasn’t wearing his signature red hat, the report wasn’t good. “We aren’t superstitious people, but every time after that I made sure he was wearing red everything, including the hat!” she laughed.
Through the course of it all, including five weeks spent in Atlanta getting regular treatments and staying at Ronald McDonald House, Kaleb stayed positive. He wasn’t able to start kindergarten this year. Although his energy level was fine, it was the fear of being around potentially sick children that kept his parents Marcie and Kyle from sending him to school and decide to keep him out the rest of this school year as well. Chemotherapy weakens the immune system, and any illness could be dangerous.
“We never started a gofundme or anything like that, but people have been so supportive as they’ve found out. Some people who you didn’t even know knew your name would send cards and even money. It was amazing what people did. Kyle took FMLA (family medical leave act) to be able to be off work – without pay – and not lose his job while he went with us to treatments and appointments. But it was really when people found out we were going to Atlanta that they really pitched in a lot.”
Kaleb finished radiation and chemo treatments in November. This past Friday, his scan showed “all clear.”
“I was sitting there with my heart pounding, anxiety killing me, waiting on the results,” Marcie said, “and they said he was clear and it’s such a relief. I mean, we will have to be looking over our shoulder the rest of our lives with him, but it’s such good news. Such a relief.”
And such a Christmas present for the whole family, and a birthday present for Kaleb as well. “His birthday is two days after Christmas,” Marcie added, “and Christmas is by far his favorite holiday. But because of it being so close to Christmas we’ve never really done a big thing for just his birthday. This year, we’re doing whatever he wants.”
Getting to ride in the lead car of the annual Christmas parade seems like a pretty good start at a good birthday.
“I want a cheese sandwich, on a hamburger bun,” Kaleb added to the conversation as he sat on the step playing a game on his tablet. “They’re my favorite, you know,” he said just before chasing Bubba across the yard again.
Cheese sandwiches for everyone* – on hamburger buns of course! Come cheer on Kaleb as he leads the procession Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. when the parade takes its usual route from Heritage Park in Brent to Court Square in Centreville.
(*Bring your own cheese sandwich, as I am not authorized to purchase 5,000 sandwiches.)