Kyle Robert Garcia Bacon and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month are two names that I wish did not have a connection, but they do. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which is meant to bring awareness, honor, remembrance, and support to children affected by cancer. So, it’s only natural every year to remember our friend Kyle Robert who lost a hard fought battle against brain cancer in January 2007 at the age of 15.
If you saw Kyle Robert, then you saw his beautiful eyes. If you heard Kyle Robert, then you heard laughter. If you watched Kyle Robert play sports, then you watched a competitive athlete. If you spoke to Kyle Robert, then you spoke to a witty and smart individual. If you knew Kyle Robert, then you loved him.
I do not know what it is like to lose a child, nor do I ever hope to. What I do know is the impact that it can make on the community. I know the emotions that I felt during and after Kyle Robert’s battle. I know that when I first met his mother Maya at work, that I never would have imagined how much our lives would become intertwined.
Maya and I first met at the middle school where we both worked at the time; however, it wasn’t until our sons were on the same soccer team that our friendship blossomed. Although my son Damien was one year older than Kyle Robert, our lives would intersect regularly through sports, as well as the local elementary school, where I would later work.
Kyle Robert entered my family’s heart and life in the summer of 1996. At the time, he was the only child of Maya and her husband Allan. He was an adorable little five-year-old boy with beautiful eyes, a big smile and a lot of energy.
Little did we know in that first soccer practice the connection that my entire family would have with the Bacons. Damien’s grandpa (my dad) was their coach. Just as I had recruited my dad the previous year to “volunteer” and return to coaching, he did the same. This meant that it didn’t take long for Kyle Robert’s dad Allan to become an assistant coach. This wouldn’t be Allan’s only year of coaching either. It was just the beginning. This would also be the beginning of the Kyle Robert and Damien sports years.
Anyone who has a child involved in sports leagues, or similar activities, knows that the families can become close. We see each other at practices, games, and tournaments. During season, we see each other more than our own relatives. We slowly merge into one big community sports family—which is exactly what happened in ours.
There was a core group of children in Kyle Robert and Damien’s age range that followed each other from soccer to baseball season. Some of whom were also able to fit basketball in between the two other sports. That core group would play with and/or against each other, depending on the season. Most of them played on all-star teams together too. These players weren’t alone though; they had involved parents and grandparents who supported the collective group. We watched out for each other’s children on the sports field, in school, and around the community. Our children were interwoven into each family’s life and it didn’t take too long to realize that fact. A bombshell was about to drop.
The community was in disbelief when the news broke about Kyle Robert’s malignant brain tumor diagnosis in late 2002. He was in 6th grade. “What? Are you sure? Are the doctors sure? What happened? Will he be ok?” Wide-eyed, open mouth, and tears slowly falling was the facial expression shown by most. This couldn’t be happening. Have you seen him on the soccer field? Have you seen him play baseball? He’s a healthy kid! If it can happen to Kyle, then it can happen to my child!
I guarantee you that after hearing the news, every mother and father looked at their own children with a new set of eyes and hugged them a little tighter that night. I know that I did. And then I prayed for Kyle Robert, Allan and Maya, our sports community family, who would be enduring this new challenge. I prayed that he would receive the best treatment available and that the family’s life would be “back to normal” soon. Is there ever really a normal life after that though?
Our community became hopeful when Kyle Robert was deemed tumor-free and healthy enough to return to sports. So, in the spring of 2003, he was back on the baseball diamond. He and Damien were on the same team and Kyle Robert’s skills had not diminished. He was still a great athlete. Everything seemed “back to normal.” That is until the cancer returned a year later. He was in 7th grade.
The next few years would be a roller coaster ride for the Bacons. Kyle Robert’s brain literally played a painful game of hide-and-seek with the family. He got a tumor; then it was removed; a new one appeared; and then it was removed. The cycle continued.
As middle school and recreational sports leagues ended for our children in the community, so did our direct contact. Many of the kids would go on to different high schools and continue their sports careers there.
My son Damien was nearing the end of his freshman in high school when I heard that Kyle Robert’s cancer returned again. I knew that it was an aggressive cancer, but I didn’t want to think that it could happen again…not to Kyle Robert and not to Allan and Maya. But it did and the cycle wouldn’t stop. The entire cycle that began in late 2002 would last over four years and involve several surgeries. He was now in 8th grade.
So, while the rest of us families were busy watching our children enjoy their teenage years and high school activities, the Bacon family was watching their son fight for his life. Sadly, we didn’t see each other much during this time. I don’t know if they ever realized though how much their family was on our minds and in our prayers.
Even though our “core group” was now split between the local high schools, we remained tied at the heartstrings and the strongest tie was Kyle Robert. Julie, Cheryl, and Kelli were friends who I would exchange the most information with. Their children Ryan, Kenny, and Kelsey, respectively, played sports with Kyle Robert and Damien since they were little. This group of moms would try to keep each other informed on the latest news.
It was Julie who let me know that Kyle was nearing the end of his battle. Cheryl and I wanted to see him, as well as, give our support to Allan and Maya; so together, we went to the hospital. It was heart breaking to see. He didn’t look like the athletic, funny, happy Kyle Robert that we knew. Damien chose to stay home instead of seeing him like this. I was disappointed at first, but in the end I was actually glad about it. I wanted him to remember the jovial and competitive Kyle Robert that he grew up with.
On January 16, 2007, I got the call at work from my friend Julie. By this time, I was a fourth grade teacher. It was during my recess break that we spoke. This happened to be a good thing because as soon as I hung up, I dropped my head into my hands and broke down crying. Within that 15-minute recess break, I wept, called Cheryl at work, wept again, and then dried my tears enough to pick up my class from the playground. I told my students when we entered the classroom about Kyle Robert. The rest of the day is a blur. I just remember that I wanted to go home to hug my son long and tight and never let him go.
I learned later from his mother Maya how peacefully he died. It could not have been easy for Kyle Robert’s parents, but the final moments of his death are simply beautiful. Here are Maya’s words:
“For about an hour, I held his hand and Allan sat on the other side of the bed just touching him, like stroking his arm or leg, while I told him the story of his life, starting with when he was born up to that point. When I was done, we said we loved him and then he passed away immediately.”
After Kyle Robert died, I asked my aunt to make one of her cancer awareness bracelets for Maya. She had been making jewelry for a few years and was happy to do it. Maya liked the significance of the bracelet so much that she had my aunt make one for every member of her family and then for everyone who knew Kyle Robert well. This added one more thread to the Bacon family’s connection.
One of the things that I remember Maya telling me after Kyle Robert’s death was how hard it was to hear about the other teenagers’ lives. It wasn’t that she wanted to be disrespectful or unsupportive. She said that it was just another reminder of all of the things that her son wouldn’t get to do, like getting his driver’s license, having a girlfriend, wearing a letterman’s jacket, going to prom, or graduating from high school and college.
At the same time, most people, including me, didn’t know what to say. Do we talk about Kyle Robert? Will it cause more pain, heartache, and tears? Do I ask about his little sister Victoria, as if she’s their only child? Do we talk about our own children as if everything was normal? What do we do? What do we say? Honestly, we just don’t know. We feel helpless that we can’t take away the pain of their loss. We feel miserable that Kyle Robert died. Many of us feel regret that we didn’t visit and support the family as well as we could have during the last two years. Deep down, we also feel a sense of guilt and gratitude because our child is alive and healthy.
A few years ago, I read Elizabeth Edwards’ book Resilience. It was Chapter 5, in particular where she describes her 16-year-old son’s death, that helped me better understand what Maya and Allan might be going through. What I learned is that the biggest fear of a parent who has lost a child is that he or she will be forgotten. I learned that parents want to know that you still think about or even talk about their child.
Would the boys who crowded into our house and played basketball in the backyard remember him [Wade Edwards] next year or in a decade? How many of the details of his life, how much of the sound of his laughter would I be able to hold on to in that time? ~Elizabeth Edwards, Resilience
Maya and her husband Allan now have two daughters; Victoria and Simone, both of whom are very active in extracurricular activities, just like their brother was. Today, Kyle Robert’s memory is being kept alive in the community through a t-ball field and city park bench. In addition, the family has special annual events.
“…now it was my job, my new way of parenting him: to protect his memory.” ~Elizabeth Edwards, Resilience
This past Saturday, I ran into Maya at my nephew’s soccer game. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile. I shared with her how Kyle Robert has been on my mind lately and that I often share his story with my students. She was pleasantly surprised and appreciative that I told her. She said that she likes to know these kinds of things. With tears already in my eyes, I reminded her, “Kyle has not been forgotten.”
While writing, I came to the realization that there is so much more to say. There are more stories, observations, and reflections; however, I wanted to stay focused on Kyle Robert’s life and his memory. In the end, Kyle Robert’s death touched more than his family; it touched a community. We all carry of piece of him in our hearts every day.
Kyle Robert Garcia Bacon will never be forgotten.