Deidre Johnson brought in a slow cooker full of cheese dip, and family members had bags of chips, a stack of pizzas and a punch bowl.
Tablecloths were spread, and before long, the Children's Cancer Clinic waiting room at Batson Children's Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center became a celebration of Aiden Johnson winning the battle against the rhabdomyosarcoma that took his eye.
Aiden Johnson's certificates and mementos from the Children's Cancer Clinic at Batson Children's Hospital are on display, as is the bell for the clinic's ringing-out ceremonies.
Aiden's party Nov. 6 followed his ringing of a large bronze bell, a Children's Cancer Clinic tradition after a patient's last chemotherapy treatment. About 45 children have rung the bell this year, child life specialists say.
The 5-year-old, who started kindergarten at John Hopkins Elementary in Jackson this week, was presented with keepsakes and certificates of his three-year battle with cancer. He then hit the bell three times with a gavel, each one a blow against the disease.
“Cancer started this fight, but I finished it and won,” read one of the certificates. His cancer is in remission.
Deidre Johnson and Artis Johnson smile with sons Artis "AJ" and Aiden, right, during Aiden's ringing-out ceremony.
Next month, Aiden will travel to Memphis to be fitted for a prosthetic eye, said Johnson, Aiden's mother and a Medicare billing specialist at UMMC's Central Billing Office in Clinton.
“This has been mind-blowing,” she said. “In the beginning, when Aiden was diagnosed, it was heart-breaking and emotional, and now today, now that his treatments are over, it's exciting but still emotional. It's like a rollercoaster.”
Aunt Daphania Johnson, who also stayed with Aiden during treatments, looked out the window at the sunshine that followed a gray, rainy morning. “This is a good day,” she said, “and I've been ready for this day. It's been a real long journey, and sometimes it seemed like it was going to go on forever.”
Rhabdomyosarcoma, which causes the growth of muscle tumors, has a “relatively long and intense treatment period,” said Aiden's physician, Dr. Anderson Collier, associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Hemotology/Oncology at UMMC. “Most cases of rhabdomyosarcoma are painful, and the tumors cause dysfunction wherever they are.”
Aiden didn't let lengthy treatments slow him down, though.
“He is quite energetic,” said Collier. “All the nurses love him. He's a whole lot of fun.”
Friends, family and UMMC staff members were on hand to celebrate Aiden's ringing-out ceremony.
Family members say Aiden's three-year cancer fight has brought them closer together.
“I love, love, love my little brother,” said Artis “AJ” Johnson of Aiden. “I've always loved him, ever since I laid eyes on him.” Not only did AJ, 7, get medals during the bell-ringing ceremony, but he received a certificate of his own, inscribed to “the best big brother in the world.”
Deidre Johnson thanked UMMC staff members. Dabbing away tears, she said, “You all have loved Aiden and looked out for him. … You are a blessing to us and a blessing to other families.”
“This experience,” said uncle Vincent Russell of Atlanta during a prayer he offered during the ceremony, “has strengthened us and made us that much more thankful.”
Bell-ringing events, while happy, can be bittersweet for UMMC staff members.
“We'll never forget Aiden,” said child life specialist Michelle Chambers. “When children come here, they become a part of us forever.”