Saturday, July 11, 2009

June 2, 2009: Nate's Graduation

I went home a few weeks ago to soak up some California sun and for the main event - Nate's graduation. It was great to see how much better he is doing (he is still as thin as a rail, but I think he is one of those lucky souls who always will be). It was also cool to see how loved Nate is by his friends, his teachers, and the community at large. As promised, here are some shots of the big high school farewell (Nate is the 6th and final Sparks Canyon High School grad).
Here's a little photo shoot I did with Nate before we left the house. He's hilarious. He won't smile for photos, but he sure will pose for them.
See the toothy smile in this photo? I was tickling him to make him laugh so that we got a real smile. I love this kid.
The Sparks Family (at least those of us who could make it): Shaughanie (with baby boy on the way), Eva (who was up way past her bedtime and was thus unwilling to look at the camera), Michael (who was sworn into the CA Bar earlier in the day-congrats!), Dad (who is sort of hiding in the back for some strange reason), me, The Graduate, Benji and Mom. One of the joys of coming from a big family is getting a huge cheering section, and trust me when I say I couldn't talk the next morning from screaming so loudly.
Victory! Nate has had a banner year. He has survived high school (a feat in and of itself) and leukemia. Dad had his robes embroidered with the orange cancer awareness ribbon which was fantastic in two ways: (1) it made Nate stand out so that we could see him in the crowd, and (2) it made Nate feel like he accomplished great things even though so much of his senior year was spent in a hospital. Congratulations Baby Brother, we're so proud of you!

May 2009: From Jerry

May brought a number of highlights for Nate beginning with Prom on May 9.  He went with Lauren Riddle, who is a lovely girl and has ironically a neighbor since we moved into our house when Nate was 17 months old.  They had a great time and looked about as great as you can.
May 21, 2009 was Senior Recognition Night and Nate was invited to attend.  During the ceremonies, he was awarded a $2,000.00 scholarship from the Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation.  It was based on his GPA, school involvement and essay he submitted.  He also received another $500.00 scholarship from the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research.  Way to go Nate!!!!!
May 30, 2009 was the City of Santa Clarita's Relay for Life.  Many teams sign up to walk the track and a member of each team needs to be on the track at all times for 24 hours from 9 am Saturday to 9 am Sunday.  The relay is to raise money for cancer research.  It was held at Central Park and had lots of tents and booths, along with the track, it was amazing.  Nate first checked in at the Survivor Village where he was given a purple survivor shirt and medal.  At 9:00 they had the "Survivors Lap."  It was pretty amazing seeing him walk with so many others.  During the day they had many different activities, screenings for different kinds of cancer and booths.  They also sold small paper bags for $10.00 for the luminary cermony.  Any person could purchase one and decorate it any way they wanted.  Most are dedicated to loved ones lost to cancer and to survivors.  They line them up all the way around the track on both sides.  It was very sobering and humbling at 7:00 pm to walk around the track and see at least 30 luminaries dedicated to Nate, many with his picture.  At 9:00 pm there was a program and they interviewed 7 cancer survivors from every age group.  Nate was asked to represent the teenagers.  He did a great job and made everybody laugh!  They then had a candle ceremony with hundreds of people and a giant slide show lasting 45 minutes with pictures of people in the community who had died from cancer and those who were survivors.  That night, Nate found out his sister Jocie had arrived as a surprise for him.  She was there for both his ordination and graduation.
May 31, 2009 was a special day for many reasons.  Since we had a lot of the family together Nate decided he wanted to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and be ordained an Elder in our church - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It was a spiritual and sweet experience to be surrounded by Dad, Mom, Jocie, Shaughanie, Michael, Eva and Benjamin, plus many dear friends, some of whom have known Nate since he was born.  That evening Nate graduated from Seminary.  He had attended Seminary for all four years of high school from 6:30 to 7:20 am.  Even when he was sick and in the hospital, his teacher, Brother Steve Snow taped the lessons for him.  Which was so kind of him.  We all are very proud of Nate for these righteous choices. 

April 2009: From Jerry

April 1-8, 2009 was spring break for Nate.  He, Dad and Mom spent a week in Texas visiting Jeremiah, Marci, Ethan, Kaden (and baby Rito who is still growing in Marci's stomach).  Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip.  Nate had been a year ago for spring break, but Dad and Mom had not been to visit though they had tickets to go when Nate got sick.  It's OK for Dad and Mom not to be their grandson's favorite people because no one will ever be adored more than Nate is by Ethan and Kaden.  The love and adoration is mutual.  Nate spent a lot of time playing hide and seek with them and just hanging out.  It has always been wonderful to see how much love Nate has for the boys.
The day after Nate came home from TX he was asked to be the inspirational speaker at a football camp.  One of the boys in our neighboring ward, Taylor Kozck, decided to have a football camp for his Eagle Scout Project.  One of the awards given at the camp was the "Nate Sparks Determination Award".  Nate talked to the boys about dedication and overcoming obstacles in their lives.  A person who went told us he was really inspiring and, of course we were very proud of him.
Also during April, Nate's cousin Becky, her husband, Scott, and children Rilee, Ashlee and Kyller came to Disneyland for a visit.  We were all excited to go see them along with Nate's other cousin Emily.  Becky and her family have been so supportive of Nate and all of us through his illness.  Interestingly, Nate accidently broke Rilee's arm jumping on the trampoline when she was little and she was so proud of her cast.  Fun memories. 
Nate's 18th birthday was on April 30th which was on a Thursday and he had class that night so the whole family (Mom, Dad, Shaughan, Michael, Eva and Benji) took him to his favorite "restaurant."  In 'n Out Burger.  He was a happy guy.  The next day, Friday, we all went Go Cart Racing.  It was so much fun.  If anyone gets the opportunity to go, do it.  We had a blast.  Afterwards we took Nate to his favorite (upscale?) restaurant Outback Steak House.  There is nothing Nate likes more than steak! 

March 2009: From Jerry

During the month of March Nate continued to rest, sleep a lot and see his friends.  He still had to go in every single week to see his oncologist and be monitored.  This meant approximately 4 hours in the hospital including having 10 vials of blood taken, ex rays and a full examination.  His doctor happily reported that every week, his blood counts got better and better.
March 23, 2009 was the first day of the fourth quarter of the school year.  Back in July 2008 after Nate was diagnosed with leukemia, his oncologist told him if he was lucky he would make it to graduation in June, but not return to school for his senior year.  After his appointment with the Doctor on March 16th, she told him she saw no reason why he couldn't return to school for the last quarter.  (Of course, Nate had asked every single week for a month).  Although he had finished all his academic classes for graduation, the school was wonderful and he attended ASB, Leadership, Track, where he helped coach and was a Teaching Assistant one period and an Office Assistant another period.  It gave him a sense of normalacy and he was happy just to feel normal again going to school and hanging out with his friends. 
On March 31, 2009 Nate returned to the hospital to have his Hickman Catheter removed from his chest.  It had been part of him for 8 months and 1 week.  He made sure to ask them to give it to him after they removed it.  He said he wanted to keep it to remind him that through it was how he was kept alive. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Photographic Proof

Here is photographic proof that Nate continues to improve in both health and spirits. As of his last medical appointment, Nate is still cancer free! Even more, he will be graduating from Canyon High School on June 2nd. We'll be sure to post photos of that moment of glory in a little less than a month.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


The following is from Nate's mother Marilyn:

This is a response to all of you who prayed and perhaps fasted for Nate that his doctor would be inspired on the right course of treatment for Nate. After asking you all to do that I asked that Nate he also needed to seek his own answer of what should be done in his behalf. The Wednesday appointment at which we expected the doctor, Dr. Storch, to give us an answer she stated Nate needed to get healthier prior to any decision about further chemo. February 23rd Nate went back into the hospital for round 4 of chemo. There was no option per the doctor. Nate said he wasn’t going to do this, but suffered through his normal spinal tap and injection of prepatory chemo drugs put into his spine. We admitted him as I told him he still had to have his heart function test. Dr. Storch’s nurse, Lish, cried as she talked to him and told him he could die if he did not continue on with this course. Nate did not budge then or after being admitted or through the long night that came and went. Shaughan, his sister, and I tried to explain he would be giving up his life – his future instead of one more month of painful chemo in the hospital. Due to Nate’s body not being able to handle the strong chemo the doctor was reducing the amount by half as she felt he would not survive the full strength round. The doctor told us we didn’t have a choice, but Nate continued to say no. Jerry, my husband, and I had prayed, and we felt our answer was that he needed this round as an insurance policy. If there is even only one cancer cell left in one’s body it can immediately multiply and destroy. If Nate who was in remission fell out of remission he would have to have stronger chemo than he had ever received prior which could kill him, do chemo until he was back in remission and then go for a bone marrow transplant. The bone marrow transplant has a 38% mortality rate. Nate calmly told me that he had prayed and knew he was healed and safe and did not need more chemo. Monday, Jerry also was admitted to the hospital due to a severe flu, medication going awry and being dehydrated and was in isolation. Nate could not understand how our answers to prayers were different. I told him I didn’t think they were as both Jerry and I knew he was in remission and safe for now, but that the further round would be best to maintain his health as our Heavenly Father has asked us to do all we can and then he takes on the rest. Our good bishop came and talked to him during the day as did Dr. Storch and his nurses over the past 7 months. After 30 hours of Nate refusing treatment, Dr. Storch pulled me from the room on Tuesday afternoon and said that we should go with Nate’s intuition to which I replied it was his answer to prayer. Again she said let’s go with his intuition as there was no medical statistics or anything that could show that this round of chemo mattered. If he was resistant to this strong round it could be deadly. We talked for a while and included our bishop in the discussion. Ultimately we tried one more time as the nurses came in to start the chemo as we all thought Nate just didn’t want it and would be compliant when it came down to actually receiving it. We agreed if Nate refused we would be done. Nate refused and we came home.

That night it came to me very clearly that when I asked many to fast and pray that Dr. Storch would be inspired to make the right decision for Nate’s treatment that she had been inspired to make the right decision. Our prayers and yours had been answered. The answer came through Nate holding strong to that which he knew was right by asking Heavenly Father. Nate later told Jerry and I that he had fasted (going without food or water for a period of time) and prayed, and he got his answer. After getting his answer he continued to pray and was compliant when I asked him to pray about very specific treatment options. I told him thank you for his strength as he had submitted to the Father’s will. I have no doubts that this journey which started 7 months to the day we choose to stop chemo was an opportunity to learn to do the Father’s will. Nate gained his own testimony that the Lord gave him many answers during this time including early on that he would live, and then to stop putting further poison in his body that could have killed him in another round. We have had the opportunity to learn and do the Father’s will, to focus on one main objective as a family, to learn to love differently, to be tested, and to endure. Nate’s journey is not done as he has a hearing loss in his right ear, his left pinky finger has nerve damage that extends into his hand and wrist, his left heel has an open bed sore that is slowly healing, his back aches and he still has a Hickman catheter surgically implanted to be removed sometime this month. Our natural athlete is on the sidelines coaching others, getting school work caught up to graduate in June and regain his strength. He still sleeps with me some nights and needs food and pain killers at times.

I want to thank anyone who reads this for their faith and prayers as that has been the most important help anyone can give to unitedly petition our Father in Heaven for help. We, as a family have seen miracles with our Nate, within our family, and with those who for whatever reason there had been challenges in the past – these were forgotten and love replaced frustration and anger. Thank you for the donations that provided for Nate an operation not covered by Kaiser that we felt as parents was important. Thanks for the food brought, articles written, fundraisers, the bone marrow drive (yes Nate does have a basic match if ever needed), thanks to those who came and spent time especially the Patterson family for ensuring we got to go to church and had some family time each week, thanks for the donations of the computer, IPOD touch and much else. Continue your prayers for Nate to totally heal as we all have healed in this opportunity. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct they paths.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6 Those words are true. We have been strengthened by this experience so far and will continue to be. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Update on Nate

The last 2 weeks have been good for Nate. He has gained 8 lbs one week and 4 more the next. He has hair growing and his color looks good. He is just enjoying having a normal life. Although it has hurt he has worked out at the gym with his friend Kris. He is also working hard on completing some school work. Dr. Storch, his Oncologist told him he looks better than she has ever seen him look. She did tell him Friday that it would probably be 2 weeks before he has to go back in for Round 4 of chemo.

Nate found out last week he got accepted to BYU. He is excited, but also has some mixed emotions. Our prayer is he is healthy enough to attend. He continues to keep us laughing with his sense of humor. Eva, his niece has fallen in love with him, so watching her "crush" is pretty cute.

We continue to feel your love and prayers and will keep you updated on Nate's progress.