It’s just past noon on a day brimming with signs of spring.
Outside Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, flowers are moving courageously from bud to bloom.
Inside, up on 7 South, there are signs of new life as well.
The BMT-hematology-oncology floor takes on a tribal hum as a happy crowd begins to line the hallway near the iconic bell.
Bell ringings are always a celebration here–signifying the end of active treatment and the beginning of all the sweetness that life after cancer has to offer.
But this one, for a 17-year-old patient named George, is especially meaningful. Diagnosed in June with high-risk acute myeloid leukemia, George would begin a journey filled with highs and devastating lows. He would endure a bone marrow transplant, and then he would struggle through life-threatening complications. He would keep the faith as Johns Hopkins All Children’s physicians and researchers worked tirelessly in hopes of finding and securing therapies that might make a difference for him. It worked.
George is cancer-free, and while he is still recovering from the toll the complications have taken on his body, he is now strong enough to go home.
Before George leaves his hospital room for the last time, he can already hear the music … Guitars, tubano drums, maracas and happy voices are the soundtrack for this moment in his life story. He will soon enter a sea of purple. ... Doctors, nurses, therapists, Child Life specialists, social workers, friends and family are decked out in his favorite color, and they’re ready to see him ring that bell.
But first, George’s ex-stepmom, Renie, comes floating down the hall through the crowd.
If a person could actually levitate from pure joy, this is what it looks like. A bright light even in the worst of times, Renie has remained in George’s life and has been with him every step of the way since he was diagnosed. On this day, she is exuberant.
Renie lights like a butterfly in front of each nurse who has cared for George, and hands him or her a small gift—a necklace made from the beads of courage George has earned for each procedure he has been through. George has lots of beads. Each necklace bears a letter “G” to remember him by.
Six months is a long time to get to know someone on a hospital floor. Staff describe George as quick-witted and caring.
“He was just kind,” says Lindsay Jones, R.N. “Even though he often wasn’t feeling great, he still always wanted to make sure we were OK. He was protective over us,” she says.
George is now out the door and making his way down the hall, with help from girlfriend Angel, pushing his wheelchair. The crowd erupts in cheers as they witness this victory lap. The elusive bell finally within his grasp, he grabs the rope and makes it count. Everyone on the seventh floor knows that bell has been rung by the time he is finished.
George thanks all who have helped him along his journey—and he can’t help but indulge in a bit of his customary humor.
“Well, now I don’t know how I’m going to die, now that I’ve beat cancer,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
“Something dangerous, for sure,” quips Renie. “Like snowboarding.” The two have shared enough dark humor over the past six months—they’re like a seasoned improv team.
There are hugs all around, including a big one from his dad, Jack. The staff sings him a funny song filled with cancer humor.
With great effort, George turns his frail body all the way around in his wheelchair, looking past the crowd and the TV news cameras capturing the moment. He’s looking for some folks. Ah, there. He locks eyes with three members of the Environmental Services team … the people who kept George’s room germ-free, and lifted his spirits as they did their work each day. They would not have missed this moment. George gives them a smile and a small, private wave, just a flutter of the fingers. He doesn’t want to miss anybody.
The last song the staff sings is Hakuna Matata, from The Lion King. It’s George’s favorite movie, one that he watched almost every single day while he was here. For all his maturity—he is still a boy at heart, after all.
Hakuna Matata, George.
No worries for the rest of your days.