Cancer diagnoses strengthen father-son connection
By Annie Oeth
Freddie Green Jr. and his father share a lot of things: A good name, a home in Greenville, a newfound love of mule deer hunting, and a joint battle against cancer.
A diagnosis of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia came in 2013 for Freddie Jr., who was treated at the Children's Cancer Clinic at Batson Children's Hospital. He made it through chemotherapy treatments all the way to remission.
“The first time, I had just turned 14 in January,” Freddie Jr. said, “and the next month, I got sick. I went through chemo and got to the maintenance stage, but then in February of this year, I relapsed.
“That meant I had to start over. Now I'm where I am.”
Then came more disheartening news that same February: Freddie Green Sr. had been diagnosed with renal cancer.
“I was diagnosed with kidney cancer this year, in February,” Freddie Sr. said, shaking his head. “You've just got to put your faith in God.”
“When you find out one of our patients has relapsed, it's just like a punch in the gut,” said Tiffany Key, a Batson child life specialist, “but Freddie keeps such a positive attitude. His attitude is, 'We're going to do this!'”
Said Freddie Jr.: “I got through the first two years, and then this (the relapse) is a hump in the road, but we're getting around that.”
When Freddie Jr. found out that his father had been diagnosed with cancer, “we knew something was going on,” Key said. “He wasn't as cheerful as he normally is, but he was still trying to be upbeat.
“They've had a rough three years. But they've been positive the whole time.”
Freddie Jr. “is the most personable, likeable kid,” said Leslie Gowen, a Batson Children's Hospital nurse. “He keeps us all smiling, even on days he'd rather not be here.”
Key and Freddie Jr. learned about fighting pediatric cancer together.
“He was one of the first patients I worked with on 3C,” Key said. “We learned about the hem-onc (hematology-oncology) world together.
“He's just a fantastic kid. He's bonded with everyone on staff. We all love him.”
Freddie Jr. is “priceless,” said Dr. Dereck Davis, a fellow who has cared for Freddie Jr. during his stays at Batson.
“We meet all kinds of kids, and they all do well, but Freddie is different,” Davis said. “He's rare.”
Freddie Sr. also is a stand-out to the staff, Davis said.
“When people get cancer, they sometimes go through depression, and they may be reticent and angry with the world. I've seen none of that with the Greens.
“There's never a cross word or a bad attitude.”
Freddie Green Sr. and his son and namesake enjoyed a hunting trip in Montana thanks to the Catch A Dream Foundation.
The father and son were in need of a diversion, a way to take their minds off fighting cancer and focus on doing something some fathers and sons might take for granted - making memories while hunting.
Key searched the Internet for trips the father and son could take and found the Catch A Dream Foundation in Starkville.
“We really wanted something for them to do together as a father and son,” Key said. “Memories are important, and we wanted them to have a special time together.”
The Greens applied for a trip.
“They asked us if we wanted to go fishing or hunting,” said Freddie Jr., “and we said, 'Hunting!'”
The pair flew from Jackson to Atlanta, then to Salt Lake City, and then to Bozeman, Montana, for a Nov. 20-24 mule deer hunt.
The hunting trip, Freddie Sr. said, was fantastic.
“We wanted to hunt deer, and Freddie (Jr.) got a 12-point on the first try,” said Freddie Sr., wearing the camouflage jacket he was given on the trip. “He had never hunted before, never shot a gun. He just knew it was the right time to fire, and it didn't take him but one shot.
“We loved everything about that trip. It got really cold there. One night it got down to 17. I didn't know there was so much wildlife - so many deer, just walking around.”
Brian Chisholm, operations manager of Catch A Dream Foundation, said the Greens called him from their trip.
“They said it was beyond what they imagined it would be,” Chisholm said. “I'm glad they were both able to go, and they seemed to need the time alone together.”
The trip may have made a close relationship closer, said Davis.
“When I see them together, that's what I aspire to as a father, to have that kind of relationship with my kids.”
Memory-making also happens closer to home, at Batson Children's Hospital. 3C, a floor for pediatric hematology and oncology patients, “can be like an extended family,” Key said. “We see patients for years sometimes, and we form bonds with those patients and their families.”
Freddie Jr. copes with cancer by reaching out to other patients.
Freddie Green Jr., center, spends time with Bentley Broussard, left, and his sister Brooklyn at the Children’s Cancer Clinic.
“He's a real source of support,” Key said, “because he is going through what they are. He reaches out to children who have just been diagnosed and are scared to get a port, or are about to start chemo or are upset about losing their hair. He can tell them about it because he knows what it's like. And he does this on his own. We don't ask him to - he just does it.
“He was recruiting for Camp Rainbow, a camp we have for pediatric cancer patients, at a time when he didn't even get to go because he was too sick. He's just an awesome young man who wants the best for everybody.”
Freddie Jr. is also looking for the best for his future. Nearly 17, he is looking forward to rejoining his classmates in the 11th grade at Greenville Weston High.
“If my counts are good, I'll be in maintenance,” he said.
What's beyond graduation in 2017?
“I'd love to go to college and come back to Batson Children's Hospital to be a child life specialist,” Freddie Jr. said. “I look forward to helping kids who have just been diagnosed with cancer.”
“Freddie is so nurturing and caring toward others,” Key said.
“That's just who he is. He would be a phenomenal child life specialist.”