Rashawn was the healthy one, believe it or not. One of his sisters was born weighing 2 pounds, 5 ounces. And that was the easy one. The other infant was born weighing 1pound, 3 ounces. Four months premature. Mom spent a year in the hospital with that baby. Challenges, Mom calls them by way of understatement.
But Rashawn never even got sick, not even with a common cold, until he arrived at 17 years old. That’s when the healthy one kept walking into his mother’s room late at night, while she was sleeping, waking her with his fear and crying over her bed. He told her that he didn’t feel right, that he felt like there was something hiding in his body. It would reveal itself at football practice soon after that, when his hands and feet and face suddenly swelled up in a way that left the teenager afraid to check a mirror through his dizziness.
“He was literally dying right before me,” his mother says now.
Leukemia. Rashawn’s white blood-cell count was so high that doctors had to retest him on another machine, thinking the one they used had to be broken. Rashawn got to the hospital on a Monday. Would have been dead by Wednesday if he hadn’t, the doctors said. Almost two months in intensive care came after that. So much radiation. Rashawn estimates he vomited over 100 times. That wasn’t the sickness. That was the cure.
“Pumping poison in my body to get the poison out,” he says now. “First thing that came to mind is death. I’m going to die. My grandma died of breast cancer. My aunt died of pancreatic cancer. I knew what this was. I’m only 17, and I’m about to die. I’m fighting for life, tubes in my neck. I was so swollen they couldn’t get the IV in my arm, so it had to go in my neck.”
Outside intensive care, not allowed in, more than 80 of his high school friends and teammates from Middle Creek High in North Carolina gathered. Later, they put together their cards and letters and prayers. They raised more than $2,000 for his medical costs with pancake breakfasts, T-shirts, headbands and pray-for-Ray bracelets. Those things carried him through the spinal taps and bone-marrow tests and labored breathing. He played basketball and football once, but now his bed-ridden, 200-pound frame withered away to 127 pounds.
The Make-A-Wish people came into that hospital room one day, looking to help the too-young sick and dying. What would Rashawn want? A million dollars, Rashawn said. That’s not how these wishes work, he was told. They are priceless. No money allowed. Rashawn said he’d like to spend time with his hero, LeBron James, at the 2010 NBA All-Star Game. That, they could work on. James and his teammates should pop out of bejeweled bottles occasionally, given how many wishes like this they grant to sick and needy children. The date was set to meet his hero, one blessed day of relief from the sickness, but then there was fear of blood clotting and an emergency surgery, and the 2010 All-Star Game came and went. Maybe 2011?
Rashawn, feeling better, had changed his mind and perspective by then, though, because his high school friends had done so much to lift his spirits in the interim. He decided to make a wish come true a little closer to home.
“Why be selfish and meet LeBron when I can give something back to the people who supported me at my worst time?” he says now.