“Without that person’s blood, he could not have survived. That act of kindness, as a parent, as a person, there just aren’t enough thank yous.”-Kelli Williams
Those are the words of Kelli Williams, mother of Isaac Williams. If you’d just met him, you would think was a polite, wild, happy, healthy, almost unbearably-cute six-year-old boy who loves cars and is very particular about how his grilled cheese sandwiches are prepared. A regular kid, then then, perhaps.
But what you don’t see are the two scars on his abdomen, coming together like a cross, from the time when Seattle Children’s surgeons removed a tumor the size of a Nerf football from his 15-month-old body. “Very high risk” was never a phrase Kelli and her husband Dennis wanted to associate with their son. Especially when the next words they heard were “Stage 4” and “neuroblastoma.”
From that surgery and the chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and two stem cell transplants he endured, Isaac’s oncologists gave him a 50/50 chance of surviving. Or, as Kelli said to Dennis when they got the news, “the flip of a coin.”
Now though, Isaac is in full remission and recently started kindergarten and launched his baseball career. And he’s a bit of a star too – his 4th birthday was covered on the local news by KING5’s Chris Cashman and he was the face of Seattle Children’s groundbreaking CAR-T immunotherapy clinical trials. This is a kid who’s come a long way, and he’s just getting started.
Over the years since I met Kelli and Isaac at a photo shoot in 2019, their family has become like family to me. I’ve gotten to watch Isaac grow up, cry tears of joy when Kelli shared on social media that his last scans ever “came up NED,” meaning no evidence of disease, and realize that huge amounts of fight can fit inside even the smallest of us.
I think sometimes about the day in 2020 when Dennis and Kelli sponsored a blood drive in Seattle called #IsaacStrong and I interviewed Dennis about Isaac’s story. I asked him “how bad did it get?” and his eyes welled up with tears. He described a moment when Isaac was home from the hospital during the difficult conditioning phase of his first transplant when he was most sick. He was sitting in his high chair in the kitchen and he looked, as Dennis described it, his voice breaking, “like kids look before they’re about to die.”
But Isaac wasn’t done yet. He came back from that day, got his treatments, walked out of Seattle Children’s for the final time, and didn’t let cancer win. Bloodworks and its donors made sure of that.
This Mother’s Day, all of us at Bloodworks want to recognize and thank all the “cancer moms” out there like Kelli and my own, whose journeys are unimaginable but to whom, with just an hour of our time and a pint of our blood, we can give the purest hope.
Because every story of cancer, no matter how it ends, is written in hope, love, strength, and human kindness – four parts of all of us much stronger than cancer could ever hope to be. We are here now, Isaac and I, living proof that we are all strong enough and that hope is never false, only more faithful.
Listen to this 2020 episode of our podcast, Bloodworks 101, to hear more of Isaac’s incredible journey.