“Mom, I’ve waited for this day my whole life.”
That’s what six-year-old Kaleb Slaney of Placentia said when he awoke Friday morning.
Kaleb was diagnosed with leukemia at age three.
He’s spent half of his life receiving chemotherapy, but Friday marked his last treatment.
“Today is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Kaleb’s father, Sheldon, who recalled the day his son was diagnosed.
Lions Clubs take on kids cancer in N.L. and around the world
He said Wednesday, July 8, 2015 was a warm, bright and sunny day, but it felt “cold, dark and dreary.”
“I closed my eyes a thousand times that day and prayed that when I opened them that this was a nightmare.”
Sheldon said the journey is “long and difficult,” but then “there’s an opportunity for this to happen.”
He glanced with glistening eyes and gestured at the dozens of friends, family, co-workers and Janeway staff who had gathered.
“This is amazing,” he said.
On the fourth floor of the Janeway Children’s Hospital, Kaleb rang the bell excitedly as loved ones cheered and clapped for the boy they call their “superhero.”
Behind him was a mural of a blue-eyed boy much like Kaleb — a knight in armour standing atop a dragon with its tongue out. The knight holds a sword raised in the air, victorious.
The mural was painted to mark the end of Kaleb’s treatments.
The Slaney family wanted to thank everyone at the Janeway — “from the custodial staff to the nurses and doctors” — for everything they did over the past three years.
What they came up with was a way to make ringing the “bell of hope” — done when a child completes treatments — extra special.
“Where we had the bell before was just kind of this nondescript spot on the wall,” said Dr. Paul Moorehead, Kaleb’s oncologist, and one of the happy people in attendance to see him ring the bell.
“Having this really cool and creative mural as a place to have the bell, I think a lot of people are going to enjoy this.”
Kaleb’s mother, Nikki Slaney, explained the inspiration behind the mural.
During Kaleb’s three years of chemotherapy treatments, a family friend would often encourage him to “slay the dragon,” and just when Nikki was thinking of a way to thank the Janeway, her friend sent a text message.
“I thought, that’s exactly what every child who goes through cancer treatments is doing, they’re slaying a dragon, whether that’s a leukemia dragon, or a neuroblastoma dragon, and it was like once you get to ring that bell, you have slayed it,” said Nikki.
She gave the idea to a family friend, artist Chris Newhook, who created a template on his computer.
With a monetary donation from the Placentia Lions Club and paint donated by The Paint Shop in Placentia, Newhook, along with his wife, Lori Pretty, and Nikki, spent two days at the Janeway painting the mural.
Newhook said plenty of children and parents stopped by between treatments to watch them paint.
“It was very emotional,” he said, to see the children get excited just watching them work.
Seventeen hours later, the mural was done.
On Friday, Kaleb stood in front of it wearing a T-shirt with the words, ‘Hey cancer, you picked the wrong kid!’ written in orange and black.
He said he thinks the mural is “very cool.”
“Hopefully it makes other kids feel better,” he said, then smiled and laughed as a friend ran by and he chased him down the hallway.
Outside a window, the sky was grey and fog hung in the air — quite the opposite of that warm, sunny day three years ago.
And the feeling amongst the Slaney family on Friday was also quite the opposite of that day three years ago.
“I’m very excited,” Kaleb said when asked how he feels about finishing his last chemotherapy treatment.
“Today we’ve ended this journey,” said Nikki.
“We’re hoping that the next one we get on is going to be a lot more laughs and joy and all the other good stuff that life has to offer.”