I would like to ask you, have you known someone with cancer? I am going to bet that almost everyone has. I am also going to ask you, have you spent 310 days in a hospital with your 3 year old son who had cancer? I am going to bet the majority of you haven’t. (And if you have, just so you know, I will say a prayer for you.) Well, Sharon Tanksley did. Sharon spent 310 days in the hospital with her son Adam.
Adam was diagnosed with cancer, specifically Wilm’s tumor, in January 2008. Wilm’s tumor has a 95% cure rate with favorable histology. Less than 5% of the Wilm’s diagnoses come back with unfavorable histology. With an unfavorable histology, the survival rate is decreased to about 35%. All indications were that Adam had favorable histology. When the biopsy came back, the Tanklsey family was informed Adam’s cancer was at stage IV because it had metastasized to other places (lungs, lymph nodes in chest, and abdomen), but it also came back with “unfavorable” histology. The fight had begun.
Can you imagine being told your three year old child had multiple tumors with a survival rate of only 35%? Just sit back and imagine that. And then, think about this. This isn’t just a story I am writing. This is a TRUE story. This is a TRUE story of a family here in the Charlotte area. This is one of HUNDREDS of stories about children diagnosed with cancer. This is one of THOUSANDS of stories of people diagnosed with cancer everyday. This may not be politically correct for me to say, so forgive my frankness, but cancer sucks.
Adam spent the next 310 days in the hospital, with his Mom, Sharon, by his side. She has two other children who were at home. When Adam was diagnosed, her daughter had just turned one and her other son was in kindergarten. During his stay in the hospital, Adam “began receiving chemotherapy (123 rounds) immediately and also had 18 days of radiation to his neck, chest, both lungs, abdomen and pelvis. Adam has had a very unique and remarkable battle. He has battled multiple lung infections, including pneumonia, TB and aspergillius. Adam was admitted to the PICU at the beginning of July 2008 for aspergillus. During his 5 week stay in the PICU he coded (heart stopped and had to be resuscitated) twice and he remained on life support for 3 weeks. He had 7 chest tubes, multiple pnuemothorax (hole in lung), surgery to scrape the fluid off his lung and a G-tube placed to give him supplemental nutrition. He also was in right side heart failure and had pulmonary hypertension. His liver was significantly enlarged.”
The doctors were doing everything they could to save Adam, to get rid of that cancer. But what about emotional help? The doctors could not help the Tanksley Family with that. Instead, when Adam was diagnosed they were assigned a social worker. That social worker asked if she could send the Tanksley family’s information over to a group called HomeTown Heroes and the Tanksley family agreed.
Shortly afterwards, HomeTown Heroes became part of the Tanksley’s lives. HomeTown Heroes motto is “Big Kids Helping Little Kids” and they do everything they can do to help support families that have children with cancer. Not just financially, but emotionally as well. Not just for the adults, but for the children as well.
Sharon told me that Captain Smith (a Sheriff that is part of HomeTown Heroes) would visit Adam in the hospital frequently. He and Adam would go down to the playroom and spend multiple hours playing together. There was a time where Adam was too sick to leave his hospital room and he couldn’t go down and play with Captain Smith. So you know what HomeTown Heroes did? They blocked off the top floor of the parking deck, made an “A” out of police and security cars, and turned on their lights and sirens – Just for Adam. WOW.
Sharon Tanksley could not tell me enough about how much HomeTown Heroes meant to her and her family. She told me they are not there to just support you when you ask for it. They truly immersed themselves into the Tanskleys lives. They become part of your family. And they do not walk away when the battle is over, when the hospital stay ends. No, they are there for a lifetime if you will let them be.
When I spoke with Sharon over the phone yesterday, I cannot tell you how many times I started crying listening to her story and listening about Adam’s fight, as well as hearing more and more about HomeTown Heroes and what they do for families in our community. I think I got away with Sharon only knowing I was crying twice – but SHHHH! It was way more than that!
Like many people here in the Charlotte area, I had never heard of HomeTown Heroes. The only way I found out about them was visiting their Christmas Tree lot on Mallard Creek in December. And that is a shame. With all the wonderful things HomeTown Heroes do, I would expect to hear more about them…or even to hear anything about them. It is these types of organizations that truly help a family emotionally, and sometimes financially, through a devastating event and I am SHOCKED that they do not get more attention.
I don’t know. Maybe it is because media outlets do not want to talk about a subject such as cancer, or childhood cancer. But you know what? Cancer exists. Just because we choose to ignore it does not mean it isn’t there. So please, pull your head out of the sand and stop hiding from something that affects thousands of families every single day. Don’t just tell me about all of the negative aspects of cancer, tell me about the organizations that help these families. Tell me about the success stories. Tell me about all of the exciting things these organizations, HomeTown Heroes included, do for children who are fighting this horrific disease. I would rather hear about how HomeTown Heroes made a child’s day by visiting him in the hospital than about someone being shot on South Blvd any day. Give us something to believe in. Give us something to pray for, to smile about, to make us think about what more we could be doing in our own community. I don’t know who I am talking to. Media outlets I suppose. Anybody who will listen. Anybody who will look at HomeTown Heroes and acknowledge and praise what they do.
I believe meeting the folks at HomeTown Heroes was not a coincidence for me. It was supposed to happen. I don’t know why. I was supposed to go cut my own Christmas Tree in the NC Mountains. Instead, I landed at a local Christmas Tree Lot that I have passed by since I moved here 8 years ago. I kind of just threw myself at them and said, “I really want to be involved in this – please let me”. No one asked me to do this. The word “Cancer” and “Survival Rate” and the phrase “there is nothing else we can do” are some of the most HORRIBLE things to hear. EVER. I cannot control what the doctors say. I cannot control how cancer can ravage a persons body. As much as I want to, I can’t. Loss of control in situations like these can be overwhelming. I know. What I can control however, is spreading the word about HomeTown Heroes and organizations like them. And you can bet, if I have to stand on the top of the manure pile at Wallace Farms with loudspeaker to acknowledge, spread the word, and thank the people at HomeTown Heroes I will do it. My husband may not like the way I smell when I am through, but hey – if ONE person is affected by this post and decides to do something about it, then I have succeeded.
So….How is Adam now? Sharon told me multiple times that Adam is her Miracle Child. After 310 nights in the hospital in 2008 Adam remains NED (no evidence of disease). I just want to cry I am so happy.
Adam continues to get scans every three months. Adam will not be considered in full remission for 5 years (with clean scans). At that time, he will be 10 years old. Please pray for the continued healing that is taking place in Adam.
During this time, Sharon wanted something positive to come out of the whole nightmare of cancer. At this point she started the Adam Faulk Tanksley Foundation. The Adam Faulk Tanksley Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation established solely to make a difference in the lives of children and their families affected by Pediatric Cancer. By raising funds and bringing awareness through fun and uplifting events, our mission is to help find a cure for Pediatric Cancer.
You would not believe what the Foundation has done and continues to do for the local community. Check back in a few days because I will be telling you all about it.
In the meantime, I would like to tip my hat to all the people of HomeTown Heroes. They do not get a fraction of the acknowledgment they deserve. In addition, I want to say to Sharon Tanksley that it was an honor to be able to speak with you and thank you so much for opening up to me. For allowing me to stand up with you in this fight against cancer.
To learn more about HomeTown Heroes, check out their Facebook page or their website.
For more information on Adam Tanksley or the Adam Faulk Tanksley Foundation, read more here:
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