To be sure, a diagnosis of cancer hits with all of the force of an 8.5 magnitude earthquake – toppling plans and shaking foundations. To say that it is life altering would be the biggest of understatements. Adults stricken with this cruelest of diseases must assemble all of their strength and resolve to beat it. The thought of a child diagnosed with cancer, though, makes me want to curse the Heavens and pray for mercy all within the same breath. Children….well, they just shouldn’t have to deal with this shit.
One month ago today, on June 9th, my friend Katie Rodriguez and her husband Santiago woke up to what I can only assume they thought would be a day like any other. It turned out to be anything but that. Following a morning visit to Memorial Hospital with their 22-month-old son, Gabe, they found themselves rushing to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis with a gut-wrenching diagnosis: cancer. After waiting for test results for what must have seemed like an interminable amount of time, they discovered that Gabe has acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL). This is the most common type of childhood cancer and, fortunately, the most treatable. Gabe immediately began an aggressive treatment regimen, and has already undergone several rounds of chemotherapy and blood transfusions. He is fighting hard and progress is being made, but there is still a long road ahead.
Even as I write this I have to pause for a moment to compose myself. I can’t imagine the level of pain that diagnosis brings to a parent’s heart. To sit in a sterile waiting room and hear those words spoken aloud about your baby. To hold your baby while he receives multiple rounds of powerful drugs designed to kill off cells that are attacking his body. To lie awake at night, knowing that rest is necessary for the energy that you will need to take on another day, yet unable to shut off your brain or stop your tears. Understandably, this has been a grueling ordeal for the Rodriguez family, which also includes Gabe’s three-month-old brother, Joel. Anything I could possibly attempt to write to convey the magnitude of this situation just seems trivial and trite.
Katie and I became friends on the softball diamond when we were teenagers. We met while at Lake Michigan College during our freshman year (along with her twin sister Colleen) and, through the wonder of Facebook, have been able to keep in touch over the years. I’ve commented on her beautiful family photos and have marveled at her success as the Clay Varsity Softball Coach. She leads her team and her community with an infectious personality, a positive spirit, and an ever-present smile. Her love for her husband, Santi, is a beautiful testament to the way marriages should work – a partnership grounded in mutual respect and unshakable support. When I noticed on that fateful day, one month ago, that her normally upbeat Facebook status changed to one asking for prayers and support, my heart ached for her. I have since been amazed by her (and her husband’s) display of strength and courage.
Childhood cancer is abhorrent and cruel and unfair. But, what this cancer doesn’t know (but will soon) is that it messed with the wrong family. There are thousands of people who are lining up behind Gabe, ready to tag in. These cancer cells will rue the day that they attacked his little body and they will limp back home and tell all of their friends not to bother. “He’s too tough,” they will say, “We don’t stand a chance against him.” And they are right. Love will always triumph over evil, and Gabe and his family have no shortage of love. And after he kicks Leukemia’s butt, he is going to take on the rest of the world. I can’t wait to see what mighty accomplishments are ahead for him.
So, sports fans, it’s time to put your rally caps on for Gabe. In the words of Dan Devine, “No one, and I mean no one, comes into our house and pushes us around.” The diagnosis of cancer may come with the force of an earthquake but, after the ground stops shaking, a strong community will clear the rubble, restore the foundation, and build it back up - bigger and better than ever before. It’s time to help clear the rubble so the Rodriguez family can get on with the business of rebuilding.
If you want to show your support for Gabe (and Katie, Santiago and Joel), there are a variety of ways to do so. Visit the “ALL in for Gabe” event page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/allinforgabe to find out more about the Golf Outing and Silent Auction on Saturday, August 29th. If you are interested in donating an item for raffle, sponsoring a hole at the golf outing, or making a monetary gift, please visit the site to complete a donation form. Checks can be made payable to "Gifts for Gabe" and can be deposited at any PNC Bank location or mailed to P.O. Box 6234, South Bend, IN 46660.
Please consider making a donation to support Gabe’s fight. It is times like these that we must rally together to protect our most innocent and precious resource – our children.