Our son, Cole Henderson, celebrated his 2nd birthday on April 10, 2020 and on April 22nd, we were blindsided with every parent’s worst nightmare…”your child has cancer”.
Cole had stage 4, high-risk, Neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is the most common solid tumor in children under the age of five. In most cases it has already metastasized by the time it is diagnosed. That was very true for Cole as his cancer had already metastasized to much of his body by the time it was discovered.
At that time, the world was already turned upside down with the uncertainties of early COVID-19 and ours was that much worse. Due to hospital protocol of only one adult could be in the room with Cole. That meant that through most of his treatment, we couldn’t be together. We would take 24 hour shifts and swap off at the main entrance. However, you play the cards you are dealt, and we made the best of our situation.
Throughout his treatment, Cole completed 5 rounds of chemotherapy at Prisma in Greenville, a weeklong trial MIBG therapy at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, NC, 7 surgeries amongst multiple facilities, a stem cell transplant at Shawn Jenkins (MUSC) in Charleston, SC that lasted 7 weeks, and 14 rounds of radiation back home in Greenville. All that in a short, 10-months.
Before beginning his stem cell transplant in November 2020, Cole was considered NED (No Evidence of Disease). Unfortunately, a week after completing radiation in February 2021, his cancer came back and spread to his lungs within a matter of days. The doctors could not do any more and Cole went to heaven on February 20, 2021.
Cole fought harder than any two year old should ever have to and he showed more bravery and courage than most adults we know. His smile lit up the room and all who knew him were better for it. He loved Mickey Mouse, being outside and anything green! He had the best smile, the most infectious laugh and gave the absolute best snuggles.
Grief is hard, there is no way to paint it in a pretty light. However, we had this feeling that we could not close ourselves in our home and close the book on our son’s journey. Erin specifically kept saying, “we have to give back the love and affection shown to us during Cole’s fight”. We thought about where were the gaps in coverage for children fighting cancer in Greenville. Lucky for us, Cole’s treatment took us to multiple hospitals and that allowed us to pull from a collective of ideas and efforts. We wanted to give back to Greenville the things that made our Cole Bear smile during his journey. That lead us to start Cole’s Victory Lap.
The biblical meaning for Cole is “Victory” and Cole received his ultimate victory when he went to be with Jesus. Also, Cole liked to watch racing with Clint. After a victory, many race car drivers perform a victory lap to wave at the fans. We thought this name for our foundation was perfect as Cole is “taking his victory lap” and leaving his mark on the other kids and families fighting cancer.
Cole’s Victory Lap has four key focus areas. Printed bed sheet sets, Drink & ‘Nack Cart, In-patient entertainment, and professional photographs. The printed sheets were something given to us during Cole’s treatment at Levine. This was a very intensive and scary treatment, but the smile on Cole’s face when his nurse showed him a Mickey Mouse comforter melted away the anxiety we were facing. We saw and continue to see how a simple set of fun sheets can turn a plain hospital bed into a little slice of home. The Drink & ‘Nack cart are 100% Erin as she always had a bag full of snacks in case Cole ever felt like eating. Calories are the main focus to “fuel the fight” so we make sure all the “good stuff” is ready to go for these warriors, their doctors/nurses, and their families. Also, being two, Cole called them “nacks” so that is what we call them. Having a distraction or some form of entertainment can be another way to make a child feel at home. We saw first hand the issues with iPads or Kindles trying to connect to Wi-Fi or anything else. So we bought Apple TV’s for all the rooms on the cancer floor and clinic and cover the subscriptions for Disney+ and Netflix. They even come complete with a green remote…just the right color for Cole. Finally, professional photographs are a gift we will always treasure and we wanted to share that with other cancer families. The family picks the time and place, we show up with our talented professional, and the family is sent a full set of prints and digital copies without having to add to the mountain of decisions on their plates.
Cole’s Victory Lap is in honor of our precious boy who passed away at the age of only two. He fought for exactly 10 months and 4 days. It was not enough time for us but we will continue to let his memory shine in our community.
Don’t wait to make a difference. Each year, the Upstate sees an average of over 50 new cancer diagnoses. It can happen to any child at any time and it does not discriminate. It is relentless and fierce and heart breaking. By supporting Cole’s Victory Lap, you are supporting children who are fighting cancer and you are providing comfort for families battling this rare and deadly disease with hope, support and funds.