Thursday, June 26, 2014

F**K CANCER, Part 2 & 3

Part 2
So, I just realized that I never did follow up about Sonny and the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention. In an earlier post, I told you about inviting Sonny and Evan to their very own Star Wars Day at LexCon, but we were unsure if they would be able to make it. Well, they made it, and I think we surprised them nicely.

We made arrangements for Sonny and his family to come in through the back door, since the convention wouldn’t be open to the public for another couple of hours. Our media relations guru, Tyler, made his way back to meet them and lead them through the maze of booths to the front where we waited.

When they turned the corner to where we waited, the family was met by more than 20 COSTUMED characters standing in formation for them to walk through. A literal tunnel of Star Wars characters, all there to welcome them into our cosplay world. At the end of the aisle waited the Emperor and Lord Vader, accompanied by Felix Siva (who has played multiple iconic sci-fi roles, including Twiki from "Buck Rogers" and the hang gliding Ewok in "Return of the Jedi") and Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar, also from "Return of the Jedi"). Lining both sides of the aisle were stormtroopers, clone troopers, bounty hunters, astromech droids, Imperial Officers…and even another TK who was shorter than the rest, and in a motorized chair.

Toby was there in full TK just like the rest of us. Exactly a year prior, Toby was the young man making his way through this very scene. He liked it, and us, so much that he started coming to troops just to be around. So the guys got together and put together a TK suit just his size. I’ll post later about the day he got it. Quite a special day; Star Wars Reads Day, a couple got engaged with a bunch of SW guys, and Toby’s armor. Awesome.)

So, here we are, a little more than halfway through Sonny’s full chemo regimine, and their family is being treated like rock stars. They get to go booth to booth before any of the crowd comes in. They got some unique swag, including meeting and hanging out with people who have actually been in the movies we all love. And they loved every minute of it. Sonny’s mom posted this on Facebook later that day:

“Last set of pics from Comic Con this morning. Kids had a blast and came away with some awesome Star Wars swag too! The 501st is an amazing group with ginormous, generous hearts. Thk you!!”

She also posted a picture of Evan about a week later to let me know that she was still sleeping in her Darth Vader gloves every night. I also made sure to let Sonny’s mom and dad know that we’d be there anytime Sonny needed a few friendly masks to stop by and cheer him up, or anything else that we could do.

Part 3
Fast forward to mid June. It’s time for Sonny’s FOURTEENTH and last chemo treatment, including a five day stay in the hospital. But finally the end of the road is coming up. And Sonny’s mom wants to make it special. She posts this on Facebook:

“On Tuesday we will be admitted for Sonny's final round of chemo, #14, a five day hospital stay. When he is discharged Saturday afternoon @5:15pm, I'd like to invite as many of you as can make it to line the halls on the way out of the KY Children's Hospital down to the pull thru driveway in front of the hospital to cheer Sonny on as he makes his exit. If you'd like, you can make signs, bring balloons, blow noisemakers or whistles, however you'd like to cheer him on. Feel free to PM me or call/text for more info. I think this would just blow him away!!”

My immediate reaction is to plan to be there, but after thinking about it for a few minutes, I feel like it’s a family and friends thing. While I know Sonny’s dad from years back, I didn’t want to intrude; Sonny wouldn’t know me from Adam, and I didn’t want anyone to have to explain who I really was. Let Darth Vader be just Darth Vader.

But then, Sonny’s dad messaged me directly:

“Sonny's last chemo should start tomorrow and end this saturday. we were going to try to get as many friends as we can to line the exit of the hospital as sonny leaves. Would love it if you could come. Darth Vader costume would be awesome, but i understand it would entail a lot of preparation for a simple 10 second "sonny walk-by." But even if you and any other 501st want to come by in your "street clothes," we'd be honored.”

As it turned out, we were planning a 501st cookout at Casa de Vader that day, with most of our group coming to town. Once they heard that Sonny was getting out of the hospital, it was decided. We would be there, in full costume. Even for a ten second walk by…but it became more than that.

The initial plan was for us to be outside the hospital, waiting for Sonny as an unofficial Finish Line. Once we let her know we were there, she told the staff to let us up. She wanted us to walk Sonny from his room to the front door. No way we could refuse that. So….we get to the hospital, and get changed….in the middle of the parking garage.

From the garage to the hospital is a pedway that crosses over a rather busy street near the college campus. So, if you happened to be driving down Limestone on that Saturday afternoon, you may have looked up and seen Darth Vader and several imperial troops walking towards the hospital.

We made our way up to the room to see Sonny. He was finishing up a treatment, and then would be free to go. Lord Vader and a TK were able to see a couple more kids in their rooms, but we were called away shortly to escort Sonny out after his last chemo treatment.

Sonny and one of our own have a special bond, even though they didn’t know it before that day. TK-51200 of the Blue Sun Squad is a cancer survivor himself. His name is Brian, and Brian was in control of Sonny’s wheelchair. And Sonny’s mom was more than happy to let Brian be escort number one out of the hospital.

So, Sonny has finished up his chemo. He still has a cast due to a minor complication with the plate and bone graft. And in the coming week, he will undergo multiple tests to confirm that his is indeed cancer free. Hopefully, there will be a troop he can come to and be just another kid there. Him and his family have had a rough year; I look forward to the day when they can be just a face in the crowd. But until then, we’ll be there when we’re needed.

Bad guys doing good.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

College is where you figure out what to do with your life…..right?

I’ve been teasing this for a while, but it’s finally time. Here’s the story where I met my first contact with someone who was actually IN the 501st Legion. And it was a total accident.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up on Star Wars. 1977, I was seven years old. Been a full fledged fan every since, even through the Prequels. Yes, I liked them…not as much as the original trilogy. But I did enjoy the movies and the story. Mainly because that was all we were supposed to get for the rest of our lives. Nothing beyond Episode III, from what George had told us. He was going to fill in the gap up to the beginning we all knew and loved. That bright planet with a little starship flying by, being closely followed by an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Fill in the gap.

Close the book.

There’s the final page with those two damnable words on it.

So how does a person of forty-ish years of age prolong his love of some science fiction movies that pretty much shaped a life? That was a question I hadn’t found an answer to. I had several (or more than several) collectibles from all of the movies, and enjoyed just sitting in my room looking at them. But slowly the realization set in after Episode III. It was over. Time to move on.

And I tried. I even bought in to the phrase “Joss is my master now.” Buffy, I dug it. Angel, dug as well…but never did get caught up. Dollhouse, saw every episode. Firefly?

Firefly. There’s Han Solo. With a different first mate. And several new characters . Jayne. Zoe. Kaylee. Inara. Ok, I can get behind this. I can even tell my mind that these are characters who grew right out of the Star Wars movies I love. AND THERE’S A MOVIE, TOO! This will do.

Then came the year I was a forty year old freshman. Going to college. Finally. To do what I really wanted to do…web and graphic design. Plus all of the gen ed course, too. Algebra, English, all that good stuff. But with the stuff I really wanted to learn as well, including:

For various applications, of course. Including Web Design. One of my first professors was a gentleman named Tim Birch. He would be my introduction to the 501st Legion, and completely by accident.

By this time, I had already had my encounter with the short Darth Vader in Philly. And we’d had our family photo with Boba Fett and a TK (before I knew what a TK was). But I had no idea they were part of an organization that would change my life eventually.

Back to Professor Birch. The classes he was teaching, or that I was taking at least, were all online. Video presentations that each student watched at their own pace, then the student finished the required coursework, and submitted it to the professor. This particular class was (if memory serves) Photoshop for Web Design. During the video presentation, Mr. Birch had an issue with Photoshop, and it locked up on him. He had to close and restart the program, but it didn’t require him to stop the video capture software he was using. So, he crashed Photoshop, clicked the start button, and restarted it. But…

When he clicked the start button, I noticed the icon on his menu: a stormtrooper helmet.

So, once I finished that weeks assignment and submitted it, I made sure to mention how much of a Star Wars fan I am, I grew up on the movies, blah blah woof woof…having no idea that he was a member of the 501st. When Professor Birch responded to me, he included the ultimate smart-ass answer.

“Star Wars? I think I’ve heard of it.”

With a hyperlink to a page: Click here.

It was his 501st online profile.

My immediate first thought was was “Oh, I’m passing this class for DAMN sure.”

As it turns out, I did. With an A. And now, I am all but finished with my coursework at that college. At any time, I can walk. And I currently have a 4.0 GPA, through many hours of hard work and the full support of my family. I have also had several classes with Mr. Birch, and now that my coursework is all but complete (I just have to file the paperwork, but there are classes outside the web/graphic design program I want to take), I am happy to call Tim Birch a good friend.

I am now a full fledged member of the 501st Legion, and Tim and I troop at least one event per month together. Our schedules don’t always mesh, but we do the same events as much as possible. Tim is a great guy, and encouraged me to get into this. It didn’t take much encouragement, especially after meeting short Lord Vader. I pestered him to find me a Vader suit, and he always referred to the legend of the Vader suit for sale in Tennessee. (Turns out, it wasn’t a legend. Tyler Phillips found the guy; that will be my next story.) Tim showed me the road to go down, and basically said he’d walk it with me. And here we are, several years later, bringing smiles to faces who are going through pain we can’t begin to imagine.

All because we dress up like Star Wars characters on the weekends.

Life is good. But you don’t know what it looks like until you’ve seen it through a helmet.