SOLON– It’s coming up on a year since Solon then-senior high school student Brett Smith was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2011.
It’s been a year of hospitals and hope, platelet counts and chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and constant prayer. The good news of his remission in May was quashed in August, when a bone marrow biopsy revealed the cancer was still present and the doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics said another stem cell transplant was not an option at the time. Since then, Brett has been receiving specialized and extensive treatment, fraught with unexpected setbacks, at the Anderson Cancer Treatment Center in Houston, Texas.
But family and friends remain determined; they’re going to love him through it.
In the last year, the community of Solon has participated in several activities to raise funds to assist Brett and his family– parents Carmen and Jeff, and sisters Becca and Katie– with medical expenses, including a hair shaving event, selling bracelets and T-shirts, a benefit dance and donations of cash and personal items from friends and other family members.
The latest installment of assistance came not in the form of cash or check, but in voices reaching out to the Smith family and lifted up toward heaven.
Approximately 100 people gathered in the Solon Middle School gym and, led by Brett’s cousin Sara Drea, sang a customized version of Martina McBride’s country song, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.” The performance was captured on video and is now posted on YouTube for Brett and all the world to see and hear.
Brett’s aunt, Deb Behr, heard the song on her car radio one day, she said, and it brought a flood of emotions and thoughts about what her brother’s family was going through.
“It captures a lot of the feelings everyone is going through and expresses the support and love you all have behind you,” she wrote in note to the family. She got the idea to change the lyrics slightly to be more specific to Brett’s situation, have people sing it in a large group and send it as a video card to the Smith family.
“This is a genuine expression of the love and support you have in this small town and community,” Behr wrote. “There are so many pulling for your recovery and return to Iowa.”
The song by Ben Hayslip, Jimmy Yeary and Sonya Isaacs was originally written about a woman dealing with breast cancer. The sentiment is that when the going gets tough in the battle for life, one can draw on the strength of family and friends to overcome.
“When you’re weak, we’ll be strong. When you let go, we’ll hold on. When you need to cry, we swear we’ll be there to dry your eyes,” the lyrics intone.
The video was taped on Nov. 26, just one week after Brett’s 19th birthday, and posted to YouTube on Nov. 30 for the Smith family to access. It was a moving holiday greeting, particularly given the tenderness of the situation.
Carmen Smith has been posting regular updates on Brett’s condition and all of his activities for the last year on a website designed for that specific purpose. The University of Iowa created the CarePages website for cancer patients and their families to stay in touch with loved ones wherever they may be through the convenience and interactivity of the Internet.
Carmen posted a reaction to the video that evening on Brett’s CarePage.
“Please watch to see what a wonderful community we live in,” Carmen wrote. “We are truly blessed to have so many loving and caring people in our lives! Everyone’s continued support, kind thoughts and prayers mean more to us then any of you could ever know!”
And after more opportunities to watch, she wrote again.
“We want to thank everyone for the great video that was made. Brought tears to all of us. It was absolutely wonderful; very touching that there were that many people helped make it happen on a holiday weekend. So fun to see everyone’s faces. We miss you all.”
Back in Iowa, it was all the group had hoped for.
Brett is now progressing toward another stem cell transplant, working daily to eat properly, get the necessary rest and build his strength for the procedure, while his body continues to rebel with low platelet counts, potential infections and intermittent pain. Sister Katie is to be the donor, and the tentative date of the transplant is Dec. 19, as long as everything continues as planned.
It’s a day-to-day fight that the Smiths are determined to win together.
And as Christmas approaches, they prepare celebrate another holiday with the ones they love, decorating their makeshift apartment in Texas with a lighted Christmas tree, and continuing to post updates for the folks back home. To date, more than 500 visitors have accessed Brett’s CarePage to check on his progress and reply with messages of encouragement, hope and well wishes.
And back in Solon, as the group of 90 well-wishers held hands and swayed to the music, the message they sent rang out loud and clear:
“When you feel lost, and scared to death, like you can’t take one more step, just take my hand and together we can do it. We’re gonna love you through it.”