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  Charlie and his mother

Nomination of Charles Waller for the Cancer Survivor of the Year Award
by Abigail Waller to the Sparrow Foundation, Lansing, Michigan

I am writing to nominate our son Charlie Waller for the Cancer Survivor of the Year Award. On April 1st 2011, after an MRI at Sparrow Hospital, Charlie was diagnosed with a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a rare and inoperable brain stem tumor. Charlie is currently doing well and yet, now almost four years old, he is already beating the odds by surviving for over a year post-diagnosis. We feel that children like Charlie are as admirable as those remarkable people who have faced down their cancer or who have bravely continued on with their lives in spite of living in cancer’s shadow. The trauma of treatment can magnify aspects of a person’s personality in many ways. Charlie has rebounded from months of fear and discomfort with one overriding emotion: love. He is extraordinary because he has confronted his pain with the purest, happiest, and most generous affection.

Charlie’s love is as much about giving as receiving. With an emotional maturity way in advance of his years, he feels the pain of others. When a parent is sick, when his sister grazes her knee, or when a friend is feeling left out, Charlie instinctually comforts and reassures. “I got idea” he says and offers a solution. He cradles our heads and kisses our faces when we look sad. ‘It OK, Eddie’, he says to his sister Esther when she is upset. His capacity for empathy is breathtaking. In March Charlie had an MRI. I could see the fear in his eyes as he was laid on the table. I could see him holding my gaze and biting his lip so as not to cry.  He could see our sadness in spite of our attempts to conceal it. Then he did something beautiful. He could not tolerate my pain and so stretched out his hand, tickled me under the chin, made me laugh, and smiled in return. Always he reciprocates our love with loving strength. He can face adversity because he has the love to enrich every moment.

Charlie’s love also gives him a keen sense of what is right. He spends much of his time pretending to be a superhero or ‘bad guy’, as one would expect from a three year old and especially one who felt so weak and so powerless for so long, but his superheroes always win and bad guys always come good. There is no crude comeuppance for his bad guys, they just can’t sustain it for long! Charlie’s reservoir of love is so deep that he cannot bear unkindness. Life with him brings both intense joy and pain because he melts us over and over again through his small acts of kindness and then we have to remember that we are going to lose him.

Love and compassion allow Charlie to see and appreciate the world around him with heightened awareness. This is clearest in the pleasure he takes in seeing animals and nature. He squeals in delight when an ant crosses his path. A bird feather found on a walk gives him as much pleasure as a new bike. When he sees worms surface in the mud he pleads with me to take them home so he can look after them “forever”.  And, when asked what his favourite animal is he stops and thinks and then states that “all” animals are his favourite. I look down and see his mosquito-bitten ankles and challenge him by asking “even mosquitoes?” “Mommy!”  he explains “the mosquitoes did not bite me, they just kissed me!” And when he catches me killing a spider in the kitchen, he begins to genuinely cry, looks at me with confusion and disappointment and calmly states that “the spider did not want to hurt anyone - it was my friend!” Charlie has such a love for life and all living things. I will always be grateful to him for showing me the commonplace beauties which are all around us and for teaching me to stop to enjoy flowers, to appreciate the wonder of insects, and to recognise the amount of love which animals can bring into a home.

A child’s cancer affects the entire family. Charlie’s is breaking our hearts and yet we think that we will be wiser if sadder people as a result of it. Through his love of life and of living things Charlie teaches us how to celebrate life by opening our eyes and allowing us to see the world as he sees it: a place of rich beauty. That is why he is a most remarkable survivor.


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