Kristin Seward | Lens of Hope

James sitting on the steps outside in the sun smiling
Photos and story by: Kristin Seward | Lens of Hope

When you’re a three year old boy, your world revolves around a few pretty significant things, like trucks and diggers, for starters. James wasted no time introducing me to all of his trucks that day as we sat in his playroom, his bright blue eyes and blonde hair reminding me of my own boy when he was that age, right down to his affinity for all things construction. 

James playing with a truck in a bucket of sand

Like a lot of kids his age, James goes to preschool everyday. He loves Peppa Pig and Bluey and could eat his weight in Welch’s fruit snacks.

When he gets ready for bed, his mom and dad help him put on his pajamas, brush his teeth, and read a bedtime story. But not before he takes Mercaptopurine — his daily dose of chemo.

He has done this for months now, and will continue to do it every evening before bed as part of the maintenance phase of his treatment for Leukemia (along with IV chemo in his port and spine every three months). After more than two years, he’ll complete his treatment this August.

Elizabeth and Joe had just moved into their new house in the Spring of 2021 in the hopes of growing their family when James began having fevers sporadically, and later developed a bad cough. Because it was at the height of the pandemic, most clinics were only testing for Covid and flu. Every time he spiked a fever, they took him to his pediatrician. And every time, the tests came back negative. It was probably some other virus, they were told. 

It wasn’t long, though, until there was another fever — this one lasting a week. When it didn’t respond to the usual over the counter meds, Elizabeth became concerned and took him in again, where they decided to screen him for pneumonia.

After a quick finger prick, she heard the nurse outside their door say to the doctor, “Can I talk to you in private?” 

The numbers from that blood test shouldn’t have been physically possible, they explained when they came back into the room; the test must have been skewed. However, they still wanted to determine whether or not he had pneumonia, so they sent them to St Mary’s hospital for additional testing. But when the doctor came into their room at St Mary’s later that evening, Elizabeth immediately knew something else much scarier was happening, because he wasn’t wearing his PPE anymore.

This wasn’t covid, it wasn’t pneumonia — it wasn’t something even communicable. It was cancer.

four photos of James in the hospital with his parents
Photos and story by: Kristin Seward | Lens of Hope

James had B Cell ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) and was categorized as high risk. He was transported by ambulance to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU that same night and chemo began the next day. Thankfully, he achieved remission after the induction phase of his treatment, though it was hard on his little 16-month-old body. Elizabeth remembers days when he wouldn’t eat, so she cradled her boy and nursed him to sleep, grateful that he was still able to get some nourishment during those long weeks. 

If there could ever be a silver lining in this situation, perhaps it’s that James was— and still is— so young.

As he inches closer to the end of his treatment, all of the events from the past two years will become more and more hazy, vague reminders only taking the shape of a small port scar that he won’t remember having put in, and pictures of a one year old boy whose mommy and daddy held him through the hardest days of their lives, when he was too little to understand that it was also the hardest days of his life, too. 

This is the fiercest kind of love, fueled by the unrelenting hope that better days are coming.

James sits on the couch with his mom and dad
Photos and story by: Kristin Seward | Lens of Hope

Photo of three year old James