During the month of December, Buddy will highlight, the Twelve Days of Fearlessness. Whether it is getting up the nerve to lace up your old ice skates with your five-year-old or conquering a halfpipe like your teenage days, fearlessness is not just situational for all- for some, it is a way of life.
What were you doing 818 days ago? Tough question- but not for Chad and Terri Hunt who brought their son, Charlie, to the pediatrician on September 8, 2016 with a rash all over his body. Blood tests showed an extremely high white blood count. Within days, their seventh grader at Stonewall Jackson Middle School was diagnosed with T-Cell ALL/Leukemia.
The hardest part for his parents was hearing the news and then sharing it with Charlie, “Just hearing the words that your child has cancer….the first thing Charlie said was ‘No! I don’t want to die!’ I’ll never get that out of my head,” said father Chad Hunt.
He and his wife Terri knew, “Staying positive around Charlie and his brothers Sam and Max was crucial. Although Terri and I were absolutely terrified though all of this, and continue to be, we’ve never let the kids see that. Early on, we knew that we had to keep things as “normal” as possible for them and we did that.”
A diagnosis of childhood cancer would be terrifying for any family, and Chad and Terri were granted sage advice from the beginning, “Our good friend told me when Charlie was diagnosed, ‘People will want to help you. Let them.’ And we did. We had to.”
The Hunts who live in a tight-knit neighborhood in Mechanicsville, VA, are long-standing members of the community. Chad and Terri were high school sweethearts, and Charlie is their oldest of three boys. They have always created a spirit of giving and readily participated in community and school events. In fact, the Hunts hosted a Party for a Reason every year where proceeds benefited a local charity or family in need. Now for the people who were always giving, it was time to receive. Their community gathered fearlessly in support.
“We had so many friends and family members do things for us from a Go Fund Me page to making #teamcharlie bracelets and tee shirts. Golf tournaments,” Hunt explains. Students at Stonewall Jackson Middle School donned orange bracelets and sold them at lemonade stands. Dynamo Soccer, where Charlie played for years, hosted events to aid in his recovery. “We have the best family and friends in the world and a community that stepped up BIG TIME! It’s very humbling to be on the receiving end of all this kindness,” Hunt said.
The community at large stepped up to the plate, but the Hunts also leaned into other locals who knew their mountain and helped them climb it, “ASK and Connor’s Heroes were there for us from day one. They truly helped us in the beginning and continue to be there for us… The person who we leaned on the most was Mackenzie Corrigan. Her son, Wyatt, was diagnosed with the exact same cancer as Charlie when he was three. Mackenzie had been through it all and was a wealth of knowledge for us. In fact, when Charlie was diagnosed and we were heading to the ER, we asked him who he wanted to be there with him. He said his brothers and Mackenzie. There are too many people to mention specifically that did a TON for us, “ Hunt recalled.
A cancer diagnosis is a parent’s worst nightmare, but through the entire 818 days, the community at large followed Charlie’s progress on Facebook. The Hunts openly shared his story which proved an inspiration for the local community and beyond.
“We have family as far away as Alaska. This was the easiest way to update a lot of people at one time. The updates eventually became therapeutic for me, and a good way to get things out. Charlie also enjoyed the updates and would frequently ask me when the next one was coming out,” Hunt explained as he reflected back on their journey.
“I really didn’t have a reason to keep track of the days at first, but as I did it, it was a pretty good visual for all of us to see just how many days we had put behind us. We commonly say, “Can you believe that is been x number of days?!”
For Chad seeing the day count proved inspirational, “For me, it’s facing a monster like cancer and not letting it beat you mentally. Knowing that I can’t let cancer win. Knowing that I have to put my son’s life in someone else’s hands like the amazing nurses and doctors at VCU and trust that they will do the right thing. I’m really not fearless. I’ve never been more scared in my life but I can’t let my kids know that.”
Since Charlie’s diagnosis, he has been hospitalized numerous times, received countless treatments, and received homebound services for his education. While his peers went to Cotillion, the beach, or to soccer tournaments, the Hunts often times stayed back because Charlie was immunosuppressed or receiving life-saving treatments.
If there is one thing that I’ve been consistent in saying through this whole process is that our community has absolutely helped Charlie heal.
Now, 818 days later, Charlie is a sophomore at Lee Davis High School. Nowadays, Charlie enjoys playing soccer again, video games and hanging out with his friends (something he couldn’t do often because of his compromised immune system). Recently, he had the opportunity to meet Michael Robinson, a Richmond native and former NFL player with the Seahawks. Robinson really took some time with Charlie, and his dad knows that experience will stick with him. Charlie also met the US Men’s National Soccer team which was his wish through Make-A-Wish.
Like each day in the Hunts’ 818 day journey, Chad recognizes the fearlessness and resiliency of Charlie, his family, and their community, “If there is one thing that I’ve been consistent in saying through this whole process is that our community has absolutely helped Charlie heal. I truly believe that. They’ve helped us stay so positive through some very dark, rough times.”
Written by Meg Sheriff