With Christmas music playing in the background, 16-year old Isaiah Smith’s face flashes a dazzling smile as he watched dozens of his friends, and the staff of Chattooga High School, fill the media center on Friday to be a part of this very special Christmas party, all in his honor.
To those who know him, Isaiah is a regular 16-year old boy. He likes to play video games and daydreams about making Youtube videos of stuff blowing up. He dreams of someday being a Marine. He dreams of a life not yet lived. And even his current diagnosis of terminal cancer can’t steal Isaiah’s smile.
Isaiah fought cancer once before. At three months old, Isaiah was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his eye. A long and grueling process threatened to erase the smile from his face permanently and end his life before it ever got started. But he fought, and he won a four year long battle with cancer, losing an eye in the process, but somehow… kept his smile. For the next twelve years, Thomas Isaiah, as his mother, Leitha, likes to call him, was a normal kid living a normal life… cancer free.
Last year, his smile and his faith were tested again. Isaiah fell at the skating rink and hurt his knee. What was originally thought to just be an ACL injury turned into much, much more. MRI images revealed a mass growing on the inside of Isaiah’s leg. The cancer was back. “The doctors told us, if they couldn’t cure the cancer, they would take his leg,” said Leitha.
Isaiah, having lost an eye to cancer when he was just a few months old, lost a leg to cancer as a 16-year old teenager. “He said, it’s either my life or my leg,” Leitha recalls. Again, Isaiah battled cancer, and kept his smile.
The amputation was an aggressive approach to eliminating an aggressive form of cancer. After the removal of his left leg in August, doctors delivered crushing news; the progressive form of cancer in his body had not been caught in time. In fact, the cancer had viscously spread throughout Isaiah’s young body. “It’s in lungs,” whispered Leitha. “There’s fluid on his lungs, it’s in his right leg and the little bit of the left leg he has left.” Leitha wasn’t ashamed of the tears that streaked her face as she watched across the room as Isaiah still beamed.
“They’re telling me I don’t have that much time. I’ll be blessed to have another six months with my son,” said Leitha. Isaiah has decided he will not have any more chemo treatments. The treatments ravaged his body, leaving him weak and sick and watching his hair fall out again. “I can’t fight him on that because he was going to do it for me.” Leitha remarked. Isaiah just wanted his hair to grow back and not be sick anymore but he was willing to do the chemo if his mother asked it. “I just feel like I would be too selfish if I let him do that for me.” Leitha continued to cry because doctors have been compassionate but realistic about Isaiah’s future.
“This young man, he’s such a bright light, he’s whole, he’s pure and he’s so smart…and a smile…” Leitha stares at Isaiah who is sitting across the room with a group of his friends smiling from ear-to-ear. Leitha choked back a sob as heartache stole her words and tears filled her eyes.
People filled the media center, wolfing down plates of food donated by local businesses. Christmas music played on the radio. Isaiah opened his presents surrounded by friends. A new computer gaming system bought with money raised by Principal Jeff Martin. Martin and the staff of Chattooga understand the uphill battle with the medical bills and time off from work Leitha as a single mom faces and they wanted to make sure Isaiah had exactly what he wanted this Christmas, without the stress of money. “He has more friends than I realized,” she said as she watched the kids keep coming in.
If the agony of watching your only son lose an eye, a leg, and endure countless rounds of chemo doesn’t shake your faith, nothing will. I asked Leitha if was she mad at God. How could she not be? Did she not question God in the midst of so much pain and suffering? Leitha told me she had been angry at times, but that she and Isaiah have a bigger faith, they know that there is no real reason why Isaiah’s walk in life is harder, it’s simply his walk. “He is a God-fearing young man, a saved young man,” said Leitha. Isaiah believes in heaven the same way he believes that jumping in a swimming pool will get him wet and Leitha knows being a Christian isn’t about this life on Earth… it’s about the next one in Heaven. “I know my son will be sitting at the right hand of God,” she said.
Hope isn’t gone in her heart. But she finds comfort in her faith and is committed to enjoying the time she still has with Isaiah. “God’s got to have one more miracle in there for Isaiah,” Leitha said and everyone in the media center was thinking, praying and pleading. And Isaiah… he is still smiling.