I received an email in March from the mother of a young cancer patient, Terrell Moore, who I had visited at Children’s National Medical Center in December. It had taken her a long time to write me—I presume she couldn’t find the words. She wanted to thank me for visiting Terrell and other children with cancer. She also wanted me to know that her son was at peace and in God’s house—he passed away from acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Terrell was a lively high school student—he enjoyed photography, Facebook, flirting, and playing basketball and the trumpet. He was the epitome of style, especially when it came to sneakers—he actually licked his new pairs right out of the box.
Two weeks after his school prom last May, Terrell’s liveliness was stripped away as he was diagnosed with leukemia. But don’t take that, as well as my initial impression of him, the wrong way: He was a fighter. Doctors told Terrell’s mother that he may not survive the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine—many cancer patients don’t. Well, when he came off it, those same docs were surprised he was still alive.
And a week after he was discharged in January, he had a seizure at home and was transported back to Children’s. A CT scan showed three brain lesions, one the size of an egg—his cancer had spread, and returned to his marrow. The same docs told Terrell’s parents that they didn’t expect him to live past that day, but he hung on for nine more, enduring more radiation. Terrell passed away on January 23, 2011 at 2:47 a.m.
Terrell’s grandmother was present when I visited him last December. Terrell had a loving immediate family—mother Gina, father James, and brother Theydon—but, according to Gina, he and his grandmother, Nellcena, had a special bond. I recall the darkness of his room—shades drawn, sullen look on his face, trache exiting his throat. Nellcena accepted a copy of my book and handed it to him, remarking that it was special of me to come by. She was patient with him, cheerful, loving, and encouraging.
Gina emailed me his memorial service program. It included a collage of photos from throughout Terrell’s life: holding up new sneakers, hugging his grandmother, dressed for church, dribbling a basketball, and smiling with his family. Always smiling. It was difficult for me to recognize that was the same young man I met at the hospital. I wish I had gotten the chance to meet the Terrell with his whole life in front of him.
I shared my brief memories of Terrell with Gina. She said I brought her tears of joy. She also said that, based on the huge turnout at his memorial service, I wasn’t the only one he made an impression on. His friends, members of his hospital staff, and one of his oncologists were at the church, which was full of paraphernalia from his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys. That team name has always made me rankle, but after his mother said that, I couldn’t help but chuckle.