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Stafford student lights the night
A third-grader at St. William of York School raises money to fund cancer research.
There’s a crucifix on the wall in 8-year-old Tomas Nichols’ bedroom. It shares the room with all the trappings of a young boy. The crucifix hangs over the window that looks out on his Stafford neighborhood. Tomas can see it from his bed if he wakes up during the night, which he frequently does. The image of Christ on the cross is comforting.
“I have nightmares every night,” Tomas said. “I have less nightmares (now).”
Tomas is the quintessential third-grader. He’s cute, with a shock of red hair, bright, playful but shy at times and into things that you’d expect of an 8-year-old.
His big love is Legos. They’re everywhere. There are Star Wars Legos and carousels built of Legos, and Lego images dot his wall. There are photographs on the wall of him at Legoland in California when he visited the park in 2008, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Tomas has pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a serious and life-threatening disease. For the past two-and-a-half years his world was one of spinal taps, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, lost hair and the ups and downs of cancer treatment. If he runs a fever of over 100.3 degrees it’s a serious event that requires a trip to the hospital emergency room. The medication he takes has, at times, swollen his young body. He’s been prodded and poked, with vital fluids siphoned for examination. He’s taken powerful chemicals to stop the cancer and they make him tired and give him nightmares.
When asked how long Tomas has been fighting cancer, his father Paul looked at his watch and said without hesitation, “Two years, nine months and 21 days.”
Tomas was diagnosed Sept. 6, 2007, and went into treatment Sept. 7. That was the beginning of a three-year regimen that the Nichols family hopes will find him free of leukemia. Things are going well for Tomas, his parents, Paul and Lenka, and his sisters, Tereza and Anna. They’re hoping that his treatment will successfully end in November.
“After that,” his father said, “he will have the blood work done quarterly, then semi-annually and finally once a year until he becomes an adult.”
Tomas has seen a lot in his eight years. A close friend of his at Walter Reed Army Medical center in Washington, D.C., died of leukemia. Troy was 17 years old. Paul said that Tomas would pray “Troy, please keep looking out for all of us.”
Tomas’ schedule of treatment can be tough on the family.
“Everything we do, everything we plan is around Tomas’streatment,” said Paul. “We appreciate each other.”
His 16-year-old sister, Teraza, said, “It kinda makes you grow up fast. Our family has grown and it’s made us closer.”
Through all of his treatment, their fears and hopes, Tomas and his family have endured, thanks in part to their strong family bond and the strength of their Catholic faith.
“Our faith helps us as a family,” said Lenka.
“All the little things in life that you thought were important are not important,” said Paul.
“School and church have been very supportive,” said Lenka.
Tomas and his family support an event called Light the Night Walk that’s sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Every fall, thousands of people gather around the country and walk to show support for people battling blood cancers. Walkers carry illuminated colored balloons: white for survivors, red for those supporting blood cancer patients and gold in memory of those who have lost the battle. The walkers ask neighbors, family and friends to donate money for research. Then they walk.
Tomas began his first Light the Night Walk in the fall of 2007. At the first walk he got pledges totaling $1,900. In 2008, he raised $8,000 and equaled that in 2009. So far this year he has raised $1,150.
He knows why he’s raising the money.
“To find a cure for cancer,” he said.
Tomas goes door to door and on streets he knows and some he doesn’t as his dad looks on protecting him.
“I’m asking if you can give a donation to Light the Night,” Tomas asks whoever will listen.
How to help
This year’s Light the Night Walk is Oct. 16. Visit Tomas Nichols’ fundraising page at pages.lightthenight.org/va/Frdrcksb10/tomas%20