I sat exasperated one evening at my work desk thumbing through some recent portraits on my overworked computer, just winding down from a long day of work. My perusing came to an abrupt halt when on my computer screen suddenly appeared a portrait of my oldest son Donell—who is now 26. My thoughts were instantly transported back in time to a portrait that I had taken of an adorable little man—or as his daddy would later dub him Mister Donell. The medical history books would record and capture for the ages his amazing story which is nothing short of miraculous. Mister Donell’s story opens with my world crashing down as doctors regretfully inform me that my 4-month old son has been diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a form of cancer. One month later the secret invader—cancer—would vault to Stage 4. Deemed terminal, I learned that the cancer had saturated his little body to the degree that his bone marrow no longer produced its own blood.
My focus immediately turned from normal every day activities to simply survival. Poor Mister Donell would have to undergo countless chemotherapy treatments and blood transfusions at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, which unfortunately for me was approximately 145 miles over mountains from where I lived in Summit Point, West Virginia. To this day I still remember the anxiety within me, knowing that I had to make a 3-hour one-way commute back and forth to look after my son in the hospital and daughter at home. I began to question the feasibility and whether I would be able to undertake such a daunting task. However, two huge obstacles were removed when blessings from on high came to me in two separate forms—one, a local church of which my dad is the pastor donated money to cover the cost of gas, and two, I was able to stay rent-free in the Ronald McDonald House which was just a stone’s throw from the hospital, right next to the Mountaineer Football Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
My days and nights were spent cuddling my Mister Donell as best I could, given that he had tubes for feeding, injecting medicine, and monitoring running everywhere. It didn’t take long for me to discern that he loved having his little feet rubbed, and thus I comforted him many times in this manner. When he slept, my feet took me on walks around the hospital, and one day I ended up on the 6th floor. Upon looking out a certain set of windows, I noticed that it provided me with a beautiful panoramic view of the football stadium. Imagine my surprise when the thousands of fans wearing blue and gold stormed in on a Saturday morning for the home football game. With all the apprehension inside me, watching the excited crowd cheering on their Mountaineers reminded me how important it was for me to cheer on my Mister Donell. Just as the thousands of fans cheered on their team, I became my son’s biggest cheerleader, and despite it being fourth down and long, I never gave up.
With a mighty hand, Jesus reached down from heaven and pulled my Mister Donell from the jaws of death and delivered him from that secret invader. Like with any battle, there are scars left behind that remind us veterans of the war that took place in our past. Though completely healed of cancer, he suffered permanent high-frequency hearing loss and experiences frequent joint problems brought on by the chemotherapy. Be that as it may, these scars are more than welcomed given the opponent and given the monumental victory. Today, he has redirected his life and is currently enrolled in school at West Virginia University (WVU), earnestly seeking a degree in Athletic Coaching Education, putting him on track to one day becoming a Division I football coach. His ultimate dream is to become the first African American head football coach at WVU, and to develop into a positive influencer of young boys and girls, beginning in his home state of West Virginia.
WVU has always been his dream school. No other school was ever mentioned. His delay in attending came, because when he graduated from high school, he lacked the confidence to pursue an education at WVU despite the consistent prodding from his daddy and me. Deep down in my heart, I knew that he had a strong passion to one day sport the blue and gold as a student. I would go as far to say that my Mister Donell bleeds blue and gold. He was just a baby when cancer ransacked his little body, thus he has very little memory of the war today as an adult. I—on the other hand—remember every shot fired, every bomb dropped, and every cry for help. Given that he grew up in Bunker Hill, West Virginia—the eastern panhandle, I find it astounding the appetite he has for WVU given the course of events that transpired so early in his life. I chalk it up as divine intervention—him fulfilling his destiny. As a big fan, I am anxiously awaiting to read the next chapter in his life.