Before the parade of vehicles rolled down his street, before the fire truck and police K-9 team and the girls in the convertible spraying Silly String, the 17-year-old two-time cancer survivor needed a moment to himself.
For the first time in eight months, Tyler had returned to the house near Tampa where he’d lived all his life – except for two stints in Memphis being treated for lymph system cancer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“When I first got in the door, I walked past my family because I didn’t want them to see me cry,” Tyler said.
When his mother, Kim, noticed the tears and asked her usually non-emotional only child what was the matter, Tyler told her: “Mom, I didn’t know if I’d ever see the house again.”
The family could write a book on all that led to the homecoming – the med-flight from Tampa to Memphis, the Christmas Eve bone marrow transplant, the peril COVID-19 added to a replenishing immune system – but their overwhelming feeling at that moment was gratitude.
As his father, Jeff, had told him on the 12-hour drive home that Friday: “You were given a second chance at life and now we’re working on a third chance.”
The parade had been Jeff’s idea. A manager in Tampa for HomeGoods, a longtime corporate supporter of St. Jude, Jeff was granted a transfer to a store near Memphis, so he saw up close all Tyler endured.
“I felt like, with everything this guy has been through...we’ve got to make coming home special,” Jeff said.
After he’d seen his room again, with everything in the same place he’d left it in October, Tyler fired up a video game. When his father interrupted to say someone was there to see him, Tyler asked to say he was asleep.
“OK, Ty,” Jeff said, “there’s 50 people here to see you. Can you just come outside?”
And so came the caravan, honking and waving, including the coaches and teammates with the Clearwater Chargers soccer club. Just before the relapse in October, Tyler had won the starting goalkeeper job after training during the first round of treatments in 2018-19 with the University of Memphis soccer team.
Kim, his mother, took video from across the street: “It was overwhelming. Just gratitude, realizing how many people really loved him, how many hearts he had touched.”
Recently, Tyler learned a former student from his high school needed a bone marrow transplant, and reached out to offer support and counsel.
“I told him that, yeah, it’s hell, but you’re strong and you’ll get through it,” Tyler said. “I’ve seen kids go through a lot worse than me. I feel like now, I can persevere through anything after what I went through.”