Sunday, 31 March 2013

Hidden Strength, Incredible Courage

Today, I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon in the company of one of the bravest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  Oliver came snorkeling this afternoon, along with his family, and I could not help noticing the large lump that protruded from his chest, one the left side, around the same area of his heart.  At first I assumed it was a birth mark or some form of abnormal growth, like an abscess. A little later I caught part of a conversation that alluded to something far worse, far more sinister.  It turned out that Oliver was half way through his three year treatment for leukemia.  Oliver is eight years old.

Oliver and his family were in Costa Rica through the Make A Wish Foundation.  Oliver is crazy passionate about birds and it was Oliver's dream to come to Costa Rica, so that he could see the bird life here.  From watching Oliver, there was not a trace of any indication that he was ill or that he was going through the trauma of chemotherapy treatments.  He was an extremely pleasant, lively and engaging boy.  He avidly watched as we passed by a colony of pelicans and frigates, and later, he informed us all that two birds standing on some rocks were cormorants.

Although Oliver had never snorkelled before and did not really know how to swim, he nonetheless jumped into the water wearing his little orange life preserver, and with some assistance from myself, we managed a spot of snorkelling, until he became cold and started to shiver, and so we headed back to the boat.  On the boat, I got him laughing and giggling as he and I performed the cookie dance, which, for those of you not familiar with local customs here in Costa Rica, is an absolute necessity before you are allowed a packet of cookies from our cooler on the boat.

The lump on Oliver's chest was the valve through which they administer the chemotherapy drugs.  His mother referred to it as his 'volcano'.  I could not help but think of what it must be like for little Oliver to have pipes going into his body, pouring in a toxic mix of chemicals, in the hope of destroying the cancerous cells.  How hard must it be also, for a parent to look on, helpless, as their child lies there in the hospital, suffering and fighting?  What strength and courage does it take to do that?  I cannot imagine it.

This afternoon's experience set me to thinking about inner strength.  Often, it is those people who never complain, who simply get on with life, those who never say a word and just shrug and carry on, that are the strongest.  We do not notice those people because they make no fuss, they make no commotion, they do not complain about their lot, they just quietly go about dealing with their problems.  Very often too, these are the same people who take on the problems of others, those people who will always listen, always stay calm and offer advice.  Even when their own world may be in tatters, when their own problems seem insurmountable, they will always make time to listen and help other people, they will put aside their problems and give you their help and support.  These are the 'go to' people.  I am sure you know someone who fits this description.  If you can think of someone like that in your life, drop them a message and tell them two very simple words, tell them, thank you.

Oliver.  He was so small, so innocent in this world and yet, what he has to deal with is enormous.  It is a heavy burden to carry and at the end of the treatment, there is still the chance that it could all be in vain.  There are no guarantees for Oliver, only percentages and statistics.  Oliver, I salute you.  You are one of the bravest people I have had the pleasure to meet.  Thank you for coming into my life and brightening up my afternoon, and for enriching my soul. 

If you are interested in getting involved or making a donation, please check out the Make A Wish Foundation at:

People like Oliver deserve to have their dreams come true.

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