An incredibly shrinking world
“Everyone just needs to stop and appreciate everything they have because you never know when your life will be turned upside down.”
— Andrea Mitcheltree
Who doesn’t love kissing a baby? They’re cute, they’re cuddly, they make fun noises and, as long as they’re not spitting up on you, they remind you of the amazing wonder of life.
It’s a presidential election year in the U.S. and so it’s hard to turn on the television or look on the Internet without seeing images of presidential candidates on the campaign trail, shaking hands and making speeches. So it was, a few weeks ago, that I went to the Internet quiz site Sporcle.com (where users are permitted to make and contribute quizzes) and put together a quiz made up of images of presidential candidates kissing babies.
Searching the Internet for images produced the expected results — lots of shots of candidates laughing, smiling and making funny faces and lots of images of sometimes smiling, sometimes crying, sometimes confused babies and toddlers. Sporcle published the quiz to their website on Feb. 3 and I was delighted when another user of the site made the following comment on the quiz, “That is my little boy with John McCain!”
Indeed, the photo of McCain showed him at a 2008 rally at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. In the photo, the Arizona Senator is smooching an absolutely adorable little boy in a red shirt. Sporcle’s vice-president of products, Derek Pharr, contacted the user who left the comment. What follows is a story that will make you marvel at the connectivity of the modern world, but more importantly, a story that will touch your heart.
The user turned out to be Andrea Mitcheltree of Bethlehem, Pa., and the mother of three children, including little Duncan Mitcheltree, who was 15 months old when the photo was taken at Lehigh in 2008. The story of how the picture came to be is somewhat pedestrian, but the story of what happened after it is remarkable.
Duncan and his folks went to the McCain/Palin rally with little Duncan dressed in an elephant costume (a ‘wee-publican’, as his mother says). The rally was crowded and hot and Duncan overheated, so he was de-pachydermed prior to meeting the Senator and having his picture taken. The photo appeared in some local newspapers and some other media outlets and then sat dormant for four years.
The quiz was played by a college friend of Mitcheltree. That friend recognized the boy as Duncan and emailed a link to the quiz to Mitcheltree who created a Sporcle account and left the comment. She also was kind enough to respond to Derek when he emailed her, and that takes us to Duncan’s magnificent story.
You see, not long after Duncan Mitcheltree met Senator John McCain, Duncan faced a battle much greater than McCain had faced against Barack Obama. Too young to vote, too young to read, too young to know what the men and women in the white lab coats were saying or why his parents, Andrea and Eric, were so upset, Duncan Mitcheltree — that adorable, cherubic, blond boy in the Sporcle quiz — faced a fight for his life.
Shortly before Christmas in 2009, he just couldn’t shake a fever and sore throat. His mom took him to the doctor hoping that he wouldn’t be sick over Christmas. She later told a local newspaper reporter, “I thought we’d go to the pediatrician and worst case scenario he’d diagnose him with strep throat and start an antibiotic.” Instead, the doctor sent them for an ultrasound and the ultrasound found a mass in Duncan’s abdomen. Two year-old Duncan Mitcheltree had cancer. “They told us to pack a bag and go directly to the hospital,” his mother said. “What do you pack when you think your child is going to die?”
The tumor was the size of a sports bottle and resulted from a form of kidney cancer that frequently strikes children. Surgery successfully removed the tumor and one of Duncan’s kidneys, but his battle wasn’t over yet. Following the surgery, Duncan faced months of radiation and chemotherapy. Even then, though, Duncan was on the mend. “Every day after that has been a positive step forward,” his father said.
Since his diagnosis, Duncan has had many heroes in his life, including his parents and his big sister. Indeed, they have worked tirelessly to raise pediatric cancer awareness and to help raise money for other families that find themselves facing an unexpected battle. In particular, the Mitcheltrees cite The Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley and its ‘Chemo Circus.’ Twice a month the Foundation gathers clowns, artists, massage therapists and other volunteers who go into the chemotherapy clinics to make the experience more livable for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The circus is just one of the ways that the Foundation provides support.
Duncan is now four and a half years old. He is finished with radiation and chemotherapy and the great news is that his form of cancer has a 90 percent cure rate if it is caught early, removed and appropriately treated. He has a new baby sister and, when he hits five years without any recurrence of his cancer (a date that will come in 2015), his doctors will officially declare him cancer free. You can support the work of the foundation at pcflv.org by donating to them using Paypal.
The Republican primary in Pennsylvania isn’t until April 24. Perhaps this year we’ll get a new picture of Duncan’s baby sister getting a smooch from a candidate, a healthy, happy Duncan at her side.
David Hejmanowski is a magistrate and court administrator of the Delaware County Juvenile Court and former assistant prosecuting attorney.