PHOTOS BY AMBER BOLEJACK PHOTOGRAPHY
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is a backyard in a shining suburb just south of Winston-Salem. It is a placid autumnal day; a SUV door is swung open and bountiful provisions from the local big-box store are unloaded. The resounding laughter of children rings out. There are two jovial, angelic sisters, ages 8 and 6, who are playing a make-believe game with their neighborhood friend. Their pure unadulterated joy trumpets from the swing set and trees. It appears that all is right in the world.
The Tuckers live here. The scene suggests this is a typical family. And yet, their journey and victory versus childhood cancer has tossed them onto a pedestal they may not have particularly wanted in the first place.
Chad and Meredith Tucker have graciously agreed to meet for an interview to speak about their unending crusade to shine a light upon childhood cancer. The disease swooped down upon them and darkened their door three years ago when their middle child, Pearl Monroe (“Roe Roe”), was diagnosed with leukemia. Meredith was 22 weeks pregnant at the time with their son, and COVID was just around the corner. To say the Tuckers have faced challenges is the most monumental understatement of the century.
“I just knew something was wrong. Roe Roe just wasn’t herself. She was hurting. She literally started crawling again at the age of three because it was less painful than walking,” says Meredith. The diagnostic tests began in earnest with Roe Roe’s doctor. No one seemed able to piece together what exactly was wrong. That was before the inevitable blood tests that revealed the identity of her body’s enemy.
Chad remembers the doctor calling him at work just before he was to go on as the anchor for the WGHP 4:00 news. “I just went into my boss and said that my daughter has leukemia. I broke down in front of him and said that I needed to go home. I remember thinking, how was I supposed to explain this to Meredith? How am I supposed to tell her this?” He exhales, catches his breath, and says, “I remember, though, that I had a peace I couldn’t identify. I just knew it was all going to be fine. I was at peace, but I remember it as the longest drive home ever.”
“I couldn’t bring myself to think this out loud, but cancer was probably a diagnosis I heard in my mind. When Chad told me that, in fact, leukemia was the diagnosis, after he spoke with the doctor, something in me just died,” says Meredith. She says, “I just remember someone at a restaurant service counter asking us soon after the diagnosis about how our day had been. The irony of that simple beautiful question. They had no idea what had just happened.” Meredith didn’t stop crying for days, but then steeled herself into action.
Cue the acceleration into hurt, acceptance, anger, guilt, “roid rage” for Roe Roe, with her steroid treatments that led to her screaming at all hours of the day and night. There were the explanations to Carson Parry, the big sister, about how this was not the “real Roe Roe,” and that grace and understanding were to be the orders of the day.
Let us take a sidestep to a discussion about Carson Parry. She is one of countless heroic figures in this story. Her role as the eldest child catapulted her into that of caretaker. She has had to stand valiantly off to the side of the limelight for Roe Roe in her own courageous journey. While it was not always easy for Carson Parry, she has ultimately remained a pillar of steadfast support even at such a tender age. Chad notes that the fundraiser they will hold once again this spring will focus on the role of siblings of those who are diagnosed. There is a framed picture in the Tuckers’ home showing Carson Parry carrying Roe Roe in her arms at the apex of chemotherapy treatments. It is an unforgettable image of a selfless sister cradling her weakened sibling.
Chad speaks of “the whispers of God.” This is the undercurrent of murmurs from the universe embedded in the challenging chapters of life. Chad and Meredith have been overwhelmingly affected by the smallest of gestures from friends and strangers alike. They emotionally tell tales of strangers who have provided cards, words of encouragement and gifts for the family. A profoundly moving expression came in the form of their mortgage being paid while they were swimming in the mire of medical bills.
Chad and Meredith want the public to know that they can do anything, big or small, to help anyone dealing with childhood cancer. They both say, “People should just show up. Be present. Don’t turn away from those who are dealing with the messiness of this. Don’t ask, just tell people you are doing something for them and do it.”
The conversation turns to what people can literally do to join the fight against childhood cancer. Chad emphatically states, “Only about 4% of all cancer research funding is allocated to childhood cancer. Write to your lawmakers. Vote with attention to what your candidate’s position is on research for childhood cancer. We need to ask our lawmakers where they stand on this.”
The arduous unfathomable odyssey culminated with Roe Roe ringing the bell at Brenner Children’s Hospital after her last day of treatment on her 6th birthday, March 28th, this year. She is thankfully in remission and exudes a spirit behind her radiant blue eyes that is instantaneously obvious to anyone. Roe Roe has a heart that beats loud and proud with resilience and a boundless joy that would have been sloughed off by many others in the depths of such a battle. If you ever have the honor of meeting her, you, too, will come away with the notion that she herself is a “whisper of God” and a miracle of the highest order. She has endured the messiness of a fight she never deserved. But make no mistake; she is the ultimate warrior princess.
In 2021, Meredith started the Roe Roe’s Heroes Childhood Cancer Foundation, named in honor of the community of people who supported their family. The foundation helps local families who don’t have a community support system with immediate assistance, while helping celebrate the siblings of children battling cancer.
The foundation also awards several nursing scholarships named in honor of Roe Roe’s beloved nurse, Nancy Smith, and teams up with Roc Solid Foundation in building playsets in the backyards of kids who cannot leave their home while fighting cancer. You can learn more at roeroesheroes.org and make tax-deductible donations directly to: Roe Roe’s Heroes, PO Box 1873, King, NC 27021.