Years ago I met a young man who was fighting cancer. He had his signature hat to hide the fact that he had long since lost his hair, his skin was pale and his body was frail. He carried with him an old Charlie Brown doll. It was well worn and battered, the paint for his eyes and the few signature Charlie Brown hairs were smudged, some were altogether gone. He held it tightly and you could tell that it meant the world to him; it was an extension of him.
I asked him about his doll, curious as to why it meant so much to him. I was ill prepared for what he said. He informed me that it had belonged to a relative but that was not what made it so special to him. He said that he saw it in their room when he was going through his original series of chemotherapy and when he saw the doll, those few hairs on its head he felt that he had found a friend indeed. To him, the lack of hair meant that poor Charlie was undergoing chemotherapy: Charlie Brown was a doll to tell kids that he had survived cancer and so could they. “Charlie Brown has no hair, why else would a kid have no hair? He has cancer like me. He’s my best friend,” he said as he rubbed on the rubber head. “Charlie Brown is how I know I will be ok.’
When he told his relative they immediately gave it to him. He rarely let it leave his side after that. As his chemo progressed, I saw both the doll and the boy age. The grey under his eyes became more and more pronounced, he became weaker as the days progressed but his grip on the rubber 1970’s doll remained tight. I spoke with him often and enjoyed our conversations though they grew more infrequent and far shorter. At the beginning he spoke of the days when he would beat the disease, where he would go, what he would do. He spoke of one day getting married, though he would need to “kiss a girl first.” Towards my last visits with him, he no longer spoke of the future, only on that day. His voice grew weaker and he spent more and more time in bed, Charlie Brown at his side.
One Thursday I stopped by for our visit. When I entered the room I saw the toy on the floor beside him. He was very weak and unable to say more than a few words. He hadn’t known that Charlie had fallen and did not seem to notice when I picked it up and put it under his tiny arm. A tear ran down my cheek as I stroked his hair and told him a story about the hikes we were going to take in the summer. He could no longer respond.
In real life, many stories end in tragedy, we cannot always have the happy ending that we all desire. His parents notified me a few days later to tell me that he had passed. He was buried with Charlie Brown at his side, under his arm just as it was when I left him. I imagine that he is now forever playing with the Peanuts gang. Both he and his toy are happy and healthy.
Thankfully as the years have passed many improvements have been made in the treatment of cancer; fewer people are dying though we are far from a cure. Please do what you can to make those who are fighting this disease live as fully as possible and do what you can to help raise funds for research. Together we can make the difference.
________________________________________________________________________"Doc Warren" Corson III is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.docwarren.org).