acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
My former student, Nick K. was a previous honoree of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Diagnosed with a PNET brain tumor at age 4 and enduring two bouts of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) as a result in the years to follow, Nick was obviously a fighter!
I was Nick's resource room educator and safety guard supervisor from 2nd through 5th grade and tutored him privately during middle school when his cancer came back, and regular school wasn’t an option. One day Nick said to me, “Miss Vicki, do you want to come to this thing with me and my mom this weekend?” After talking with mom, I agreed to tag along, not actually knowing the impact that day would have on my life!
As I walked into the Columbia Tower firefighter stair climb that day, I knew I was right where I belonged! Nick was instantly greeted like a celebrity (again, reminding you, I had NO idea what we were even doing there!) being doted on with gifts and private areas, special people greeted him, and he was asked what he wanted to volunteer to do. After handing out water in a stairwell for some time, we made our way to the top floor. I still was not aware at this time that Nick was the honoree, meaning we want to do whatever we can to make his time on this earth as special as it can be! Nor did it dawn on me that such a big outing would exhaust him for days. He never led on to his pain in my presence.
Nick was so humble. And a prankster! At the top, Nick had me removing the firefighter gear and working myself into a sweat while he sat in his fancy little area watching me and laughing. He was laughing because somehow, in the midst of it all, that kid had placed an “I’m single” name tag on my back unbeknownst to me! I got two marriage proposals that year! Ha ha!
It wasn’t until I climbed the tower myself a few weeks later and saw Nick’s smiling face on that poster in the stairwell that it hit me like a ton of bricks! My time on this earth with my little friend was dwindling. I still start crying every time I tell his story. Such an old soul, with such an impact on the people close to him, so much talent and love left undiscovered, and a beautiful life was taken much too soon!
So, I went/go back year after year to honor my little buddy, to feel close to him at the top of that tower, to continue to give what I know he would want me to for the both of us!
The hardest year was just after Nick passed. The firefighter climb was very shortly after he left us, and I cried my way through it all day, remaining strong just like he would but feeling grief that I had never before.
Then in October of 2021, I got my own cancer diagnosis, breast cancer, DCIS, stage zero. With my family history and history of difficulties in both breasts, I opted for a double mastectomy with aesthetic flat closure (no reconstruction) and did my first top-floor event just three months after my December surgery. Nick’s spirit was with me the entire journey, still is to this day, and will be forever. Cheers to my friend, the red tail Hawk in the sky, the reason I am passionate about my yearly volunteer position for LLS!
Written by Vicki, former teacher