Burkitt’s lymphoma … hospital … Atlanta ... were the only words she heard.
That day was in October 2012. Tippins had taken her 9-year-old son Joseph for medical tests a week earlier and had waited all week for the results of a biopsy on a lump on the right side of his mouth and now … now she had to collect herself … drive home to Calhoun, Ga. … get Joseph … inform the school … and drive to the hospital in Atlanta.
Joseph, who celebrated his 10th birthday in January, said Saturday, “I had a big tumor in my cheek. It was like this,” he said as he pinched his cheek between his thumb and finger and pulled it outward. “And when I smiled it was really bad.”
He explained that in the course of determining what was wrong, he went to a dentist who pulled two molars. “A week later I was up in my room screaming and crying in pain.”
He went to the local hospital. From there, he was referred to a dentist who said he’d never before seen anything like the growth in Joseph’s mouth and referred him to an oral surgeon. The surgeon recognized it almost immediately. He performed a biopsy and seven days later, Tippins answered her phone and collapsed after hearing of the results.
Joseph recalled he and his mother went to Redbud Elementary School where he was in the fourth grade.
“I asked my mom if I had cancer,” he said.
His mother only looked at him and didn’t answer his question.
“I asked her again, do I have cancer and she shook her head, yes,” he said.
“I couldn’t say it out loud,” his mother said. “I didn’t want him to be scared.”
“Of course, I was scared, but I didn’t know what to do. I thought I was going to cry, but I had one tear,” he said. “When I went home, I fell on the couch and then we took a picture of me, my mother, my mom and my dad. Then we went to the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Atlanta.”
They took the picture because that was “Day 1” of the fight.
“When I was diagnosed, I was kind of sad,” he said.
His mother said, “You were sad because you were afraid they might give you a shot.”
Not only did he get a shot, he got the first of seven spinal taps to see if cancer was in his spinal cavity. Then both hips were tapped to see if it was in his bone marrow.
“And then I had a port right here,” he said, pointing to a small, round scar on the right side of his chest where the chemo port had been. “And here I am now; I’m in my fourth month of remission.”
To help boost his immune system, Joseph will take a round of antibiotics once each month until July. He was given the option of a liquid, pills or intravenous.
“I decided to take the IV because when I take pills now, I just throw them back up because I’ve taken so-o-o many pills,” he said.
Not too long before Joseph’s illness, Mastercraft added lime green to its list of color schemes. That is also the ribbon color for Burkitt’s lymphoma. Greenwood decided that since Tippins is such a good employee and couldn’t work much between October and December, she would give the family 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of a lime green Mastercraft wakeboard boat.
“I don’t like to see any kid be sick, so it was an easy decision,” she said.
The boat is a Mastercraft X-Star. “It has everything on it. It has a computer and I get 10 percent of the money,” Joseph said. He expects to receive about $10,000 from the sale of the boat. It sold to a an oncologist from Chattanooga for $133,000. He was to take delivery of the boat on Saturday.
“I want to start a foundation with the money to help kids with cancer,” he said. “I’m going to give them clothes. I’m going to give them money so they can drive back and forth to the hospital and to buy food. The nurses have been a lot of help too. I had a lot of awesome nurses there. They’re a lot of fun.”
Now that he’s feeling better, he enjoys life with his mother and his father Michael; his 15-year-old brother Michael; and a sister, Jill, who is 26. He likes to pet his two horses and play with his two dogs. One is a Chihuahua and daschhund mix he calls a “cha-wiener” dog and the other is a pit bull.
“I like to play with them a lot and play video games. I like to ride my bike and my four-wheeler once in awhile and once I get the money, I’m going to buy a dirt bike,” he said.
His mother said a dirt bike is at the top of his wish list if he gets to buy anything for himself.
When asked about what he wants to do when he grows up, “I’ve thought about a lot of things I want to do, but they’re all kid’s choices,” he said. But then he added, “I’ve been thinking about being an architect.”
Joseph was baptized in the summer before he became sick. “Everybody put their hands on me and it felt like angels touching me. It was so soft. I closed my eyes and I saw someone in a white robe. It was like I fell asleep but I was still awake in my own dream. That’s when like, every good thing came to me and he said, ‘Something is going to happen to you. Don’t worry. You’ll be safe. I got scared for a second and then I woke up. He was right. Something did happen to me, and I knew everything was going to be all right.”
So far, everything is all right. He had the last of 74 chemo treatments in December and since then, his hair has grown back almost the same color but much finer than before — it is soft, kind of like the softness of angels.