Welcome to the first ever guest Napkin Notes post! I am incredibly pleased to introduce you to Ariane Grabill, mother of Aiden Grabill.
I “knew of” Ariane from my time working around Circuit City, but I never really “knew” her. It wasn’t until I received a cryptic post on Facebook last June from a friend, Stacia Flinn Alexander. The post simply asked, “Hey Garth, do you know the answer to this one? Hope all is well!" I was tagged on a question by Ariane, "Richmond peeps. Any idea where someone would go to hire a darth vader for a birthday party?"
I was able to forgive Ariane for not capitalizing Darth Vader, but was afraid to tell her that the Vaders I knew weren't for hire. Before I let her down, I asked why she was looking for a Vader. I learned that her son, Aiden, was about to turn four. He was going to have a Star Wars themed party and his mom wanted to make it incredibly special for him. You see, Aiden was battling kidney cancer, and birthdays mean a lot to those of us who have battled.
Her story stuck me hard. I was also a kidney cancer warrior, and I absolutely wanted to help her out. I am a member of the Rebel Legion, a costuming group that represents the "Good Guys" of the Star Wars Universe. I also have friends that are members of the 501st, the costuming group that are the bad guys. (Boo-Hiss!) I shared with Ariane that I wasn't sure about birthday parties, but that I would do my best to muster up the troops for Aiden's day.
I think Ariane expected a handful of us. As it turns out, there were 17 of us. We marched to the birthday party and I saw tears, smiles, and heard excited laughter and whoops of joy. It was the highlight of my summer. Aiden was presented with special Star Wars gifts from us, and I hope that we made his day special. Actually, I know we did. The day after the party, Aiden asked, "Hey mom, is Darf davader going to come to our house today?" His mom chuckled and replied, "No, buddy. not today. That was just for your party." Aiden, in his disappointed voice, "Awww, man! I wanted to play with him!?
Many of you have seen this photo recently. It’s of my son, Aiden and me, and it holds a special place in my heart. Not because it has been seen on the Today Show’s website, or shared on Facebook several hundred thousand times, but because of the way it has touched so many people. You can’t see my whole face, or my son’s, but you can get a sense of the love between mother and child, and that is my favorite part. So many mothers have commented that they could not imagine going through such a trial, and have held their children closer. Other mothers have said that it reminds them of the time they went through, or are going through, with a child diagnosed. This photo could tell the story of so many of those children; and there are so many other children.
Childhood cancer is the number one cause of disease-related death in children in this country. It is estimated that over fifteen thousand children and adolescents will be diagnosed with some type of cancer this year. Many of us know that October is breast cancer awareness month, but how many of us know that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month? This September, I would love to see a sea of golden yellow ribbons to increase awareness. Let’s get our NFL players wearing golden yellow shoes and wristbands. Let’s get the White House and Empire State Building golden yellow, too. My hope is that the stories of these little warriors are heard, that funding for childhood cancer research is increased, and that we can continue to improve the odds for these kids.
My family and I have been overwhelmed by this experience. I will admit that the attention is a little unsettling for me personally. However, if this photograph can raise some awareness for the many kids fighting this disease, then I will gladly speak for them. Even though Aiden cannot fully grasp the scope of this experience, he knows that his picture has made people happy, and that makes us so grateful.
I am incredibly happy to report that Aiden is cancer free and is a healthy, happy 5 year old now!