It’s part of my responsibility as a journalist to download and translate people’s pain so that readers may learn from the darkness and, ideally, even do something about it.
In my short career I’ve had a number of intense, emotional interviews with subjects still trying to register the loss of a loved one or work through a traumatic experience.
Knocking on Carol Todd’s front door and speaking to her the night after her daughter Amanda killed herself at their Port Coquitlam home ranks up there on the intensity scale. So does my sombre lunch with Zoei Thibault in the small town of Kaslo, B.C., as it became increasingly clear that the landslide that wiped out parts of a small hamlet in the Kootenays also killed her best friend, along with her sister and their dad.
I was deeply unnerved by the gaze of Franklin Lobos and Omar Reygadas, two of “Los 33” Chilean miners, as we sat in a cozy downtown Vancouver hotel room and they recounted the 69 days they lived like “cavemen.”
But none of those encounters compared to meeting three-year-old Grady (Gman) Killam and his mother Keara as he escaped his room in the B.C. Children’s Hospital cancer ward to enjoy a session in the playroom for the first time in over a month. While my younger sister survived two daunting bouts with meningitis during her infancy, I was too young to remember her stoicism, which seems to come naturally to many afflicted youngsters.
Gman on the other hand was right in front of my tear-filled eyes, gladly posed for photos and chatted with this reporter that day despite leading a life filled with medical setbacks and surgeries that would make many adults think twice about fighting on.
Here’s a snippet from my interview with his mother about the pain he had been enduring and the family’s earnest belief that he might be one of the “lucky ones.”
His gait has been altered by a pair of strokes, and chemotherapy sessions have reduced his blond hair to a wispy pate, but Grady’s main concern this day is eating cheezies, sipping juice and playing with a talking toy truck.
Since last July, Grady has received more than 100 blood transfusions to help him battle acute myeloid leukemia and a rare blood disorder called HLH (hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis). Two tubes coming out of his heart mean that his blood work is now much easier than when he had to endure numerous syringe “pokes” a day.
Grady’s mother, Keara Killam, says the tough three-year-old only cries out when he’s in extreme pain. And she has resolved not to cry in his presence.
“I promised myself that I would never cry in front of him because he can only just know that it’s OK,” Killam says as Grady stomps around the cancer ward’s playroom. “Sometimes my husband and I take turns leaving the room and having a little cry, and then we’ll come back in.”
Yesterday I gave blood for the second time since Killam died March 2. It’s a small gesture I plan to perform roughly every two months as a way to honour this courageous little guy’s life.
Anyone interested in donating in Canada can call 1-888-236-283 or go to http://www.blood.ca to book an appointment. Blood donor clinics take walk-ins but appreciate people booking ahead of time.