Columbia. -- My family and I need your help. Just before Christmas we discovered that our six-year-old son, Lucas, has leukemia. Since then our lives have been full of hospitals and chemotherapy and he is now in remission.
His disease has an unfavorable cell-type: acute myelocytic. While there has been remarkable progress in the therapy of childhood leukemia, treatment is arduous and uncertain and the side effects of the chemicals used are difficult to withstand. Against all probability he and I turn out to be a close, though not perfect, immunologic match -- close enough that tomorrow I will be the donor for his bone marrow transplant.
The procedure involves an attempt to kill his diseased marrow with chemotherapy and replace it with mine. An experimental undertaking only a few years ago, this operation is now routine at major centers, though not without risk. It represents an attempt to cross the immune barrier, that fundamental biologic defense which distinguishes self from non-self.
A major hazard is that the ''graft'' will not take, that his body will identify my marrow as foreign and reject it. Drugs are used to suppress this rejection. But in the weeks and months following the procedure, he may be subject to complications including infection, bleeding and liver damage.
As my wife and I have immersed ourselves in the literature of hope and attitudinal healing, we have come to believe strongly that the combined good will and faith of all who care about Lucas can be a powerful curative force. We have received much comfort from those we know, all of whom are eager to do whatever they can. We have asked each of them for a photograph to display in Lucas' room so that he can see the faces of those who wish him well and are adding their prayers and hopes to our own.
One of the few benefits of this ordeal has been the chance to meet other families who are struggling with this awful illness. We are members of a club none of us wished to join and we welcome all the support and good wishes we can get, especially prayers for the recovery of our children. This is how you can help.
March 19, the transplant date, is his mother's and my wedding anniversary. We can take this to be a good omen. It is also the Catholic Feast of St. Joseph, Christ's father on earth, which we believe to be a very auspicious coincidence. Donating my marrow is the closest I will ever come to the direct experience of giving new life; everything else I have done pales in comparison. And March 20 is the first day of spring.
I lie with Lucas as he falls asleep, and I look at the remnants of his beautiful blond hair, now nearly gone from the chemotherapy. I feel his breath on my face and wonder at the fragility of our most precious earthly connections. At these times he asks me questions, some existential (''Can kids die from cancer?''), some theological (''Can God hold the sun in his hand?''), some ordinary (''What does a dogfish look like?'').
I find myself trying to explain many things that I do not know for certain and I have fallen back on the Quaker idea of God residing in everyone. He seems comforted by this.
During his trips to Johns Hopkins for treatment, Lucas often asks to stop by the old main entrance under the dome to visit Stein's 13-foot-high marble sculpture of Christ. It is a remarkable sight, my little boy gazing up at the great statue, drawing strength from the silent eloquence of that beatific face.
We now commit our son and our future to the care of those we believe offer him the best chance for life. We reserve to ourselves the healing forces of love and hope and a shared conviction with Robert Fulghum:
I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge --
That myth is more potent than history.
I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts --
That hope always triumphs over experience --
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death.
Please remember us to your God.
Gordon Livingston writes from Columbia.