The Eternal Optimist: Calvin's Story

After being treated for a brain tumor at St. Jude, Calvin is on a mission to make other people happy.

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  •  3 min

St. Jude patient Calvin

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The girl at Calvin’s school was sad. There had been an argument with her family. She wasn’t a close friend, but he thought he could help. Because that’s Calvin.

“She was crying, so I said, ‘Would you like me to sing you a song?’ She said, ‘Yeah,’” Calvin said.

So right there in the hallway, as the other kids stared, or took little notice and shuffled on by, lost in their own concerns, Calvin sang the song “Sunflower” by Post Malone to his schoolmate.

“And she got better, and that just made my day,” said Calvin.

It’s a song about a troubled relationship, but also about a flower. The eternal optimist of flowers, a sunflower thrives just about anywhere and turns to follow the sun throughout the day. You could say Calvin does that, too.

In 2016, after being diagnosed with a type of brain tumor called a craniopharyngioma, Calvin had four brain surgeries in quick succession. “July, August, September, October ­— four surgeries back to back to back,” said his mom, Fahm. After the surgeries, he received proton therapy at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. “He didn’t complain at all.”

That’s because, at 9, he’d realized the thrill of being alive, and it transformed him. “I woke up out of surgery and when I had to do radiation, I was actually happy because it was just amazing to be alive,” said Calvin. “Nothing is perfect in life, but it’s OK. So long as I’m healthy, I’m happy.”

At St. Jude, he went from being a “really shy kid that never talked,” said Calvin, to the kind of guy who makes up nicknames for his nurses. “The funny one is ‘Chicken Wing,’ and there’s ‘Candy Jam’ and ‘Cookie Crush’ and ‘Jackie Chan,’” said Calvin. “I just like being silly with them, and they enjoy laughing with me.”

Calvin laughs at himself a lot. He loves to dance, even though he insists his dance moves are “not cool.” He loves to sing, if it will put a smile on someone’s face. The seventh grader from California is on a mission to make other people happy — even if it means putting himself out there or looking a little goofy.

He seeks opportunities to draw people out and talk with them about their lives.

“Because you don’t know the things people are going through,” said Calvin, “and I ask, ‘How is your day?’ You should get to know people and talk to them or at least make their day happier. You get what I mean?”

No matter what they’re going through, Calvin listens. He understands.

Occasionally, he gets bullied. He’s been called “crackhead” because of the scars from his surgery. “They talk about my cross eyes from my first surgery and everything,” said Calvin. “It doesn’t bring me down, to be honest. I don’t really care about that, you know? It’s their life, they choose that way. I care about myself, my grades, my friends, my family.”

Fahm works afternoons and evenings, but she took a leave of absence during the critical months of her son’s treatment. “She has done a lot for me that’s really positive, and I just love her for what she has done,” said Calvin. “She has raised me, have a house for me, have a roof on top, have a bed, have blankets. She works her butt off just for me. That’s really sweet of her, and that’s a true mom. And she’s always there when I’m in surgery with my brain tumor, and she’s always there by me.”

With her constant care, she infused him with her love and the confidence that comes with that love. She gave him strength to overcome doubt and cushion the blows of life. She acted as his armor during treatment, and then it magically transmitted to him, so that he has his own armor. And now, if he can, he shares that armor with others.

In school, Calvin likes his science classes, especially studying dinosaurs and fossils, but really he’s interested in people. “I want to be a director and make movies,” he said. “Or I want to be a designer and make blankets or a bed or a house, so I could give them to homeless people to live in later on.”

Until then, he sings to make people happy, picking songs, “you know, in their mood, in their mode. How they like it. Or how they are. How their day was going. I just sing it.”

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