by Marianne Morf
At just 20 years, Jordan Crosser is wise beyond her years. And she attributes at least one important lesson learned to a simple class assignment she completed at Clear Lake High School.
Three years ago, as a senior at CLHS, Crosser wrote a story about her young cousin, Brayton, and his courageous battle with cancer. Today, her written words have provided not only introspection, but hopefully help for many facing cancer. Her story, “The Boy With the Bald Head,” was recently selected to be published by coolkidscampaign, a national foundation dedicated to providing kids with cancer a higher quality of life for themselves and their families while facing the challenges of cancer.
“The piece was extremely therapeutic for me, but that isn’t something I necessarily realized then,” said Jordan, who today is a junior at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. “When given the assignment by Mr. Kockler, I decided to write about what I knew. It was very straight forward for me. Now, I look back and realize that writing about Brayton made me work through a lot of the emotions I didn’t even realize I had had. As expressed in the piece, I was very angry, but when I wrote that, I didn’t realize how true that feeling was. By expressing it in the piece, though, it made it very real and was an actualized emotion.”
Crosser said she learned about a coolkidscampaign publication through her aunt Mindy, Brayton’s mom, who was introduced to it at the oncology unit in Blank’s Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.
This fall, Brayton was at Amplatz Children’s Hospital, located on the university campus where Crosser is a student.
“Brayton received a bone marrow transplant in September, which went very well for him - he actually ended up beating cancer. But, due to other complications, Brayton passed away on Nov. 18, 2012. The last time I saw him in which he could speak, his final words to me were that he loved me. That’s something I’ll always, always carry with me. He taught me a very simple lesson that day. Say you love your family and friends while you have the opportunity to - everyone is fighting some sort of battle and you never know when that battle will take them from you.”
Jordan Crosser wrote the following story about her young cousin battling cancer. The story was chosen for publication by the coolkidscampaign for national distribution.
The Boy With the Bald Head
by Jordan Crosser
As our cousins arrived, there were doors opening and the clack of shoes being kicked off in the garage. Childish giggling filled the air. A stampede like elephants sounded on the stairs. Two of them rushed to my brother Colby’s side, filled with questions about his life in the military.
“Colby! Did you shoot a gun? Can you drive a plane? What’s your car like? Is it cold there?” Brady and Benton’s questions fired without a breath in between.
Brayton, the youngest, didn’t understand the Air Force nor was he interested in Colby’s answers. He looked at me shyly with big green eyes, shuffled towards me, and then broke into a run with arms wide open. He grasped tightly to my neck and I leaned into his always-hospital-clean scent. I tickled him lightly, steering clear of his medical port.
“Jordy, stop! That tickles!” he said through a fit of giggles as we sat down. I asked how he was doing.
“Goooooood,” replied Brayton, drawing out his o’s. He tapped out a beat against the couch with his legs.
“That’s good, sweetie. I haven’t seen you in a while,” I said.
“Yeah, not since you guys had to get shots and I didn’t.”
My heart sank. This little boy was four-years-old and had already lived a life of getting poked and prodded. He had experienced more pain than some people do in a lifetime. My sweet Brayton had succumbed to leukemia. He had been referring to the blood drive we held in his name. The memory of that day is so strong…
My stomach had tied itself into a knot, pulling tighter every minute we drove closer to Nevada, Iowa from Clear Lake. My brain repeated a mantra: There’s nothing to be nervous about. I’ve given blood before. But it was far more than the blood about which I was nervous. I had never seen a sick child. Sure, I had seen kids with fevers and cough, yet not a really sick child-- not one like this. It had been eight months since I had seen Brayton. At Christmas, he was a red-cheeked cutie who clung to my neck and begged me to play. Since then, he’s been in and out of the hospital- and lost his hair.
We pulled into town and Mom stopped at a gas station. She asked if I wanted anything to eat or drink but my stomach rebelled. I stayed in the car and repeated: Don’t be nervous. He’s still Brayton. Mom returned upset, holding a soda and a sheet of paper. She handed me a flyer which promoted the blood drive that day at the community center in honor of a child who was battling leukemia. I glanced at the photo of a boy wearing a smile warmer than the sun. He had no hair. He stared at me. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I didn’t bother to wipe them away. Brayton needed held and help I could not give him. My heart ached.
Mom and I said nothing. What could we say to make it better? Our emotions weighed down the air. She heard me crying and couldn’t suppress her tears any longer. She told me softly it would be okay- a statement that neither of us truly believed.
We pulled into the parking lot at the community center. She told me to pull myself together and then go inside. I sat in the car and sobbed silently. Looking out the window, I saw boys playing soccer. They laughed as they went about their lives like nothing was wrong in the world. I felt furious, anger bubbling within. Why did they get to feel happy and have fun? Why did they get to play soccer in the sunshine on a nice day? I wanted to steal their ball and pop it. I wanted them to be as upset as me. I wanted their smiles to be replaced with tears. Then in a flash the anger was gone. It wasn’t their fault- it wasn’t anyone’s fault. I checked my makeup in the mirror and exited the car.
As I walked up to the glass doors, the stomach knot pulled tighter. I ignored it and said hello to the people passing by. I silently thanked them for donating blood in honor of my cousin. I took a deep breath and opened the door. A blast of cold air hit my face. The slap of my flip-flops echoed in the hall as I followed the arrows to a large room. There was my mom standing near the door. This is it. I gathered all the joy I could muster, put on a smile and gave my name to the woman checking in donors. I took the clipboard and sat down. My mom approached from behind and I heard her quiet sniffles.
Like gravity, my gaze was pulled in another direction. A small boy sat on the steps, chin in his hands, and elbows on his knees. His quiet contemplation made him look wise beyond his few years. Tears welled up again and I started towards him, unsure of what to say. He stopped staring into nothing as I squatted in front of him. I gave Brayton a kiss on the forehead and said hello.
“Hey Jordy,” he answered. I asked him what was wrong and he gave no reply. I picked him up and told him all these people were here because of him and that he should feel big and important. I hoped he wouldn’t see my quivering lips. He noticed the tears rolling down my face.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked. I told him my heart hurt. I didn’t want to tell him the truth- that I was scared and much less brave than he. With childish naivety, Brayton asked if I needed a Band-Aid. I chucked, “No, I’ll be alright.”
I returned to the line of chairs to start the paperwork. The blood donation process was nothing new; I’d done it many times. Yet this time it felt different. Even though no one expected me to do this, I felt pressure from the fact that I could help other little kids with bald heads. My hand shook as I wrote. I turned in the form and waited for my name to be called. Brayton returned and reached for me to pick him up. I wrapped my arms around his tiny waist as he sat on my lap.
“Jordy, are you scared?” he asked through curious eyes. I said only a little. I said I wanted him to teach me to be brave.
“You are brave though!” he said. “You’re a hero!” I looked down at this child. Every day was a constant death trap for him. I knew what he said was not quite true. There was no reason for me to be called a hero; and certainly I was not brave.
This boy was more of a hero and braver than any person I’d ever met… my boy with the bald head.