WILKES-BARRE—When isn’t a blanket a blanket? When it’s in the hands of a child.
After receiving a blanket from Little Eric’s Foundation, 4-year-old Nathan Grey turned it into a cape and jumped on his small indoor trampoline. Nathan is in remission after battling a rare form of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor. The other 299 children receiving gold blankets from the West Pittston-based foundation are in various stages of treatment.
For them, LEF co-founder Jessica Speicher hopes the blankets become a source of comfort.
“We wanted to give back to the community, to the kids in the hospitals who are getting treatment and have to be there a long period of time throughout the day or are in for extended stays,” said Speicher, who heads LEF with her husband, Eric.
In 2013, the Speichers lost their 14-year-old son Eric to cancer. Fifty of the blankets were donated to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York where Eric was treated. The others will be donated to Geisinger Danville, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Hershey Medical Center and Lehigh Valley Hospital, as well as to children who receive assistance through the foundation.
“We wanted to give them something to help comfort them, so what better than a soft blanket? Eric would always carry his blanket everywhere, so that’s kind of where we got the idea,” Speicher said.
The blanket’s gold color represents pediatric cancer awareness, but Nathan said it is close to an orange hue — the color chosen for kidney cancer awareness, and his favorite color.
“It’s because I love oranges,” Nathan said about his color choice.
After the blanket was a cape, it became a fort that Nathan built with help from his brother Jeffrey, 6, and sister Natalie, 2. Their mother, Tricia, 33, said Jeffrey was her emotional rock while Nathan received treatments for over 30 masses in his kidney and lungs.
Tricia said Nathan was first diagnosed with Stage III cancer when he was 2. His cancer was later elevated to Stage IV. Two years and 126 doses of chemotherapy later, Nathan will celebrate one year cancer-free in May. His physical activity is governed by medical restrictions, but that hasn’t stopped him from discovering and solidifying his new favorite pastime.
“Jumping,” Nathan said. “I definitely know that.”
Tricia said jumping helps with oxygen flow while Nathan works to rebuild strength in his lungs. He’s also working to build social relationships, too, as a pre-school student at Wilkes-Barre’s St. Nicholas-St. Mary’s School. Nathan’s dad, Jeff, 32, said his son’s experiences have given him a unique perspective on life.
“In school, somebody was talking about getting a shot or something like that,” Jeff said. “Then somebody in his class was telling a story about having to go to the emergency room and Nathan was just like, ‘What about it was scary?’”
From an adult perspective, Tricia echoed the sort of disconnect Nathan displayed in class. That’s why she’s thankful for the connections through the Speichers and LEF to families who have undergone similar experiences.
“Once you end treatment, it’s like, ‘See you in three months,’ and it’s supposed to go back to normal and there is no normal,” Tricia said. “Our day-to-day is school and sports and everything that a family with young children goes through, but to have an agency that takes us in like this, it’s nice to have those connections.”
Nathan intends to spend his adult life in the hospital, too, caring for patients at Geisinger Danville. He and Jeffrey plan to work together as doctors.
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