Gideon’s desire to give has been a source of pride and perspective-taking for St. Jude mom DeeAnna Janku.
I remember the Sunday morning a sweet friend handed us a car track made of cloth. It was easy to roll up and had pockets for exactly 17 Hot Wheels.
They were the favorite toy of my 3-year-old, Gideon, and we were getting ready to get on a plane to head to Memphis. Only three days earlier, we had learned the spot on his cheek I had just wanted gone for family pictures was actually melanoma.
I had only a couple of days to figure out what to do for my four other children while I was gone and get packed for what we were told would be at least two weeks at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Memphis was so far from home in Vancouver, Washington, and I’d never visited.
I had to look up St. Jude on the Internet just to learn where it was located. When the travel agent called to make our flight arrangements, I learned St. Jude covered travel, housing and even food on top of the world-class treatment my son would receive.
As we sat on the plane, Gideon happily played with his cars, complete with “zoom” sounds. He seemed oblivious to the reality that to me seemed so big. Every time his head turned and I saw the spot on his cheek we now knew was cancer, I was reminded of why we were here.
I was terrified. There had not been any time yet to process emotions. When we landed and walked underneath the large St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital sign at the airport — it hit me: My kid was sick enough that we needed to be here. I felt so out of control.
An hour later, we sat at registration, and the woman sensed the fear in my voice. She reached across the desk and took my hand. She said, “It’s going to be okay; you’re at St. Jude.”
She was right.
But Gideon already knew. He walked over to a child sitting in a little red wagon and without saying a word, gifted him one of his precious cars. An act that would be repeated many times over the next couple of days.
Soon, he had given away all of them. When we went home, he re-filled his track before we headed back just four days later. Again, he gave them all away before his surgery to remove the tumor.
The surgery took a large portion of his cheek, and Gideon didn’t want anyone to look at him. He’d often walk around with his hand over his cheek so he “wouldn’t be seen.” The only time he’d let down his guard is when he happily searched his bag for the right car to give to another child.
A year later, he asked for more cars as a party gift. He wanted to give one to everyone he met. Our community came together and gifted him more than 5,500 cars.
On his next trip to St. Jude, Gideon packed his suitcase with nothing but cars, still new in their package, and passed them out whenever he saw another child. He would choose a car “just for them” and hand it over, mostly without a single word.
St. Jude gave him his true wish though – a plastic surgeon to fix his scar. And now you can hardly even tell. When you see him, you see his smile, not his scar.
People have given him another 1,500 cars, and over the years, he’s managed to distribute all of them, most of them one at a time, personally gifted by Gideon. As his mom, I shared this story with a number of radio station partners at St. Jude. One of them found me the next day to tell me that they had found their "St. Jude moment." While watching a video of a child’s “No Mo’ Chemo” party, they saw the child grasping a small toy car. We will never know, but from his perspective, it was definitely one of Gideon’s gifts.
I will never forget the lesson my son taught me. While I felt like I had no control, he simply gave what he had. Of course, he was just 3, but he always forgot his own hurt and just gave, one car at a time, until he had no more to give.
I asked Gideon recently what he remembers about the cars, and he said, “I just wanted them (other patients) to know that I saw they were sick and the car might make them smile.”
Today, Gideon is a healthy fifth grader, and it’s been more than five years since he’s had any sign of cancer. He’s been gifted more cars and still can be found passing them out on his yearly visits to St. Jude.