Having worked at The World-Herald for 25 years, I've covered countless sporting events.
And in any other year, this weekend would be one of my busiest. The three-day live Thoroughbred meet began Friday at Horsemen's Park, and the Class A state baseball tournament starts Saturday at Werner Park.
Those events are still being covered, though I won't be a part of it. Our daughter Kim is graduating Saturday from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., and that's something I just can't miss.
It's been a long road for Kim, who has been treated twice for leukemia. She was first diagnosed at age 4, and then relapsed when she was 9.
As one might imagine, the experience was excruciatingly difficult on our family. Doctors didn't know why it happened, and were equally puzzled when the acute lymphocytic leukemia eventually returned after two years of chemotherapy.
Through it all, Kim was a trouper far beyond her years. She knew what going to the hospital clinic meant — painful spinal taps, bad-tasting medicine, “pokes” from hypodermic needles, nausea from the chemotherapy and the loss of her hair.
The hair loss didn't seem so bad during her first years of treatment. She usually wore a baseball cap and often seemed like any other little kid.
But when she relapsed, the loss of that hair became a much bigger deal. After Kim began her 2½-year chemotherapy treatment following her relapse, I remember the tears in my wife's eyes when she held up the hair brush that was full of Kim's red hair that once again was falling out.
Kim had several hats she wore during that time, and she especially liked a blue one that she would pull down tight on her head. There was no way that hat was coming off by accident, and that's the way she liked it.
I also can't forget the strength Kim showed following that devastating diagnosis that the leukemia had returned. As we drove home to get some things before returning to Children's Hospital, Kim — who was going into fourth grade at the time — could sense I wasn't doing very well.
“Don't worry, dad,” she said from the backseat. “We beat this once, we can beat it again!”
How could any parent hear those words and not draw strength from them?
As a student at St. James/Seton Elementary School, Kim often had to miss class for several reasons — sickness, chemo appointments or low blood counts.
We mostly home-schooled Kim in fourth grade out of necessity, but the staff at St. James did its best to make sure our daughter wasn't forgotten. When she was away from school for days or weeks at a time, her homeroom teacher had the kids write notes telling Kim how much they missed her.
They also held a “Hat Day” at the school, where the students could pay $1 and wear a hat all day long. That raised almost $1,000 that was donated to Camp CoHoLo, a summer camp Kim attended for kids with serious illnesses.
The principal at St. James — a rather imposing looking fellow — also told Kim that she could keep her hat on anyplace in school or in church. And if people had a problem with that, they could go talk to him about it.
That made her feel good, but there were still difficult times when people made honest mistakes. The worst came one day at school when a teacher didn't realize it was Kim and pulled her stocking cap off from behind in the classroom, revealing a head with little hair.
The tears flowed freely on the drive home that day, and the teacher called later to apologize. But even when something hurt as much as that, Kim persevered.
She was determined to stay on track with her class and accomplished that goal. She graduated from the eighth grade and earned a high school scholarship named for a former St. James student who had died of cancer.
Kim moved on to Omaha Marian and excelled during her four years. She was the mascot for the Crusaders sports teams, a member of the student council and an outstanding student.
Following her graduation from Marian, Kim attended Rockhurst. The small Jesuit school three hours from Omaha was a perfect fit for the young woman who always wanted to do more in life.
She started a Relay for Life chapter at the school, and became active in an organization called “Colleges Against Cancer.” She also concentrated on her studies toward earning two degrees — one in nursing, one in Spanish.
Kim worked hard to get those degrees, and she'll graduate Saturday summa cum laude. She'll soon begin her job at Kansas City Children's Mercy Hospital as a pediatric oncology nurse — a position she has aspired to attain since receiving such compassionate treatment from the doctors and nurses at Omaha's Children's Hospital.
Her experience with cancer has instilled a strong spirit, and Kim is driven by the Latin phrase carpe diem — seize the day.
So this weekend, the horse races are running without me. And the baseball games will be played in my absence.
I've got to be with the rest of my family — wife Beth and sons Brett and Sean — to see Kim graduate. And nothing is going to change that.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1350, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/MPattersonOWH