52 People You Need To Meet: #22 Richard Haddock

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David Pearson is my stepson, who I immediately liked when we first met. He was a very odd kid and loved to be different. Whenever someone told him that he was weird, he would simply smile and say “thank you”. David never cared what anyone thought about him and was always befriending the friendless. He would almost seek out the ones who looked wounded, or in need of a smile, or a joke, or to say something totally unexpected. David treated everyone like his best friend, and they all loved him for it.

David was a stranger to no one, and he is an amazing, wonderful soul. David Pearson was diagnosed with brain cancer, at only 16. This is what I wish I knew before then. Growing up, my parents, especially my mom, taught me that I could be anything, do anything. When David was diagnosed with a GBM (glioblastoma multiforme), my thought was that everything was solvable, that any issue could be analyzed, understood, and fixed, but I was wrong. There is currently no cure for GBM, and the standard of care hasn’t changed much in 30 years.

When we went to the hospital to help David and figure out what to do, we saw that there were lots of children with cancer. One that particularly stood out was a young man named Justin, who had leukemia. His mom, Kathleen was a nurse, and she seemed to know her way around the hospital. She was very kind to us and immediately took an interest in David. Justin and David became hospital buddies and in the short time they were together, became friends. I assumed that Justin would be fine, and that eventually he would be a healthy young man, able to live his life. I naively wished that David had something “curable” like Leukemia.

We weren’t sure what to do, since David was living in Virginia, and we lived in Kansas, but our friends, Jamie and Jennifer offered to let us stay in their house in Virginia while David was going through treatments. We essentially moved into their home, even bringing our dog, Cooper, to stay with them. They were awesome hosts and we could not have done it without them. They continue to help us as well as others.

We weren’t sure what to do with our cats, still in Kansas, and how to look after our home, but our neighbors, Jay and Michelle quickly offered to help with feeding the cats and watching over the house. It was one more thing that just got handled and we didn’t have to worry about. As we worked to help David with his health, we found that there were times that we simply could not get everything done, and that’s when Jay and Teresa stepped in and helped with all sorts of projects. There are so many kids and parents who did little things to help us along the way! Please forgive me for not naming everyone here.

A few months after David’s diagnosis, we got word that Justin had lost his battle with leukemia, and we were stunned. I thought that Justin would be okay,  but the battle had just become too much, and he lost the fight. We went to Justin’s visitation and waited for two hours to pay our respects. When we finally made it to Kathleen, she asked about David. I was heartbroken and amidst her pain, Kathleen was asking about David. Kathleen has been an amazing friend, who continues to fight for cancer research and is a treasured friend.

As we continued working to find a cure for David, we came into contact with many amazing nurses, doctors, researchers and others who are doing their best to make things better for families going through this. Dr. Hwang and Dr. Packer of Children’s Hospital in DC were very vigilant to do everything they could to help us. They were also instrumental in finding a clinical trial for David at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Jakacki treated David in Pittsburgh with a new immunology study that helped him for 10 months until the cancer got smarter and the cancer began to grow. All through our journey, we had the help from many friends, who did things to help that we could never repay. Whatever we needed, friends, and people we didn’t know were our friends yet, helped us in ways that were simply amazing.

David lost his battle at the young age of 18. I think of David every day, and think of what might have been. I miss his sense of humor, his amazing personality, his love of everyone, and his amazing faith. On the day of David’s funeral, a lot of our friends came to pay their respects. I’ve never been one who goes to funerals because they’re uncomfortable. Many people came to show their love of David, including a bunch of his friends from high school. They all wore Hawaiian shirts because David always liked to wear them to be different and stand out.

I was not prepared to see my friends David and Loren show up, as well as Dr. Hwang among many others. My brother, David, also made a point to come and be there for us. It was a very humbling day, and changed my view of funerals. When David’s battle started, I thought that we would be able to fix him, to make the cancer go away. My parents taught me that anything was possible, and even though I’d had various setbacks in my life, I always came through it.

David’s journey, though, was different. Here was this battle with cancer that David lost, but is that it? Is that where it stops? Amanda and I decided that even though David’s battle was over here on earth, that there were many more children and adults who are fighting this battle every day. Many were winning, but too many are losing. After a year or so of thinking about what to do, and trying to “recover” from such a loss, we made a decision to help. The battle for David may be lost, but the war against cancer is certainly not over.

We formed the Dragon Master Foundation in 2013 to bring big data technology to medical research. When we started, we had no idea how many people would offer to help, even though they had no family members who had ever taken on the cancer battle. We’ve been very humbled by all the help from many different people, including Angie, Miles, Kimberly, Roger, David, Linda, Jolee and many others.

I often ask myself what it means to be a Christian, and I think that our friends and family have shown me in many ways what that means. As we struggled with what to do throughout this ordeal, and ultimately our loss, Amanda and I would pray together, and we would feel a sense of calm that I cannot explain nor will I try. Things just happened for us that we can’t explain, I think, because we were connected to something greater than ourselves.

Some days I see David’s picture and just smile. He always made me laugh, and I think of what a privilege it was to have known him and be part of his journey. The picture of David with this article is just a few weeks before his diagnosis. You can see that David was a handsome young man, full of life and laughter and love and promise.

People have told me that it gets easier over time, but it really doesn’t. It makes me sad to think of what might have been. That full life that David had envisioned is gone, and his absence is felt every day. It doesn’t get easier, you just learn to live with it.

Our friends did amazing stuff for us. From all over the country, we have friends who have done so much for us we could never repay them. Even now, we have new friends who have come into our life after David died, and really want to help us with our foundation.

Some days I wonder why they help us so much, but I’m trying to be gracious and just say thank you without question. It hasn’t been easy, but our friends have made it easier for us. I wish I’d known how to be the kind of friend that all of the people who helped us through this journey have been. They figured out what we needed, and then just did it – they didn’t say to call if we needed anything. Friends show up when you’re in need – especially at the funerals of loved ones. I wish I’d known how to be a better friend.

We’re all on a journey that we don’t know the script to, and some days we’re just trying to get through the day. Be gentle, be kind and take care of each other. Life isn’t easy, but with the help of friends and family it’s well worth the ride. Thank you is not enough – but thank you to all the friends who have helped us and continue to help in this journey.

Editor’s note: You can keep track of Dragon Master Foundation at the website: http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org , on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @DragonMasterFdn .

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