Courage in the face of a child

Family deals with challenges of living with cancer

Family deals with challenges of living with cancer

November 25, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

SMITHSBURG - The answer to the darkest hours in Aaron Hopkins' life came in paint buckets and loads of prayer.

The Smithsburg High School art teacher was serene as he talked about his 2-year-old son, Asher, who is battling kidney cancer. The leader of a Christian program popular with the school's students, Hopkins said Monday in his office at school his faith and community support have helped his family deal with the boy's illness.

"I understand that this isn't the end. If Asher were to die, physically at least, he would have another life, and it would be another 40 years at the most, before I would see him again," Hopkins said after school Monday.

Hopkins said he has missed about 2 1/2 weeks of teaching, juggling work with frequent trips to the University of Maryland Hospital for Children in Baltimore, where his son has undergone surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation since the summer.


Asher had been sick on and off for several months with ear infections last winter. He was diagnosed July 14 with Wilms tumor, a kidney cancer that strikes only children, Hopkins said.

"That was a long day. That was (from) 2 in the afternoon till about 11 at night, and the guy said it was cancer," Hopkins said. Hopkins and his wife, Maria, have two other children, Natalie, who turns 1 Tuesday, and 4-year-old Isaac.

Parents and students raised more than $500 for the Hopkins family by passing around paint buckets at homecoming, said Tracey Moore, the mother of a freshman art student.

"The only thing I want for his little boy is to grow up to know his siblings and do all the things that little kids do, and just have a normal life," said Moore, who helped organize the bucket brigade.

According to Dr. Teresa York, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the children's hospital, children between the ages of 2 and 5 are the most at risk for Wilms tumors, which are among the most common childhood kidney cancer tumors. The prognosis for the disease is typically very good, and there usually is no recurrence, York said.Asher's tumors left the boy with only part of one kidney, York said.

"Later on, we will be monitoring him, of course, throughout his life ... and if he were to need a kidney transplant, of course there is a possibility of that," York said.

Asher has completed 16 weeks of a 27-week course of chemotherapy, York said.

Doctors removed one tumor the size of a football immediately, then removed a second tumor slightly smaller than a baseball last month, Hopkins said.

The boy now cries and fusses whenever anyone tries to touch his belly, Hopkins said.

"And if somebody's wearing a white lab coat, you might as well as forget it," Hopkins said.

Sophomore Brendan Roberts said he admires the steady and positive attitude Hopkins has brought to the classroom throughout Asher's illness. Brendan is active in Young Life, a Christian ministry led by Hopkins.

"I like how he spreads the word of God. He seems to have so much faith and stuff, and I see that with his son, Asher," Brendan said as he put the finishing touches on a painting after school Monday.

Hopkins said he enjoys giving young people "a fresh look on the person of Jesus."

Pictures of students cover his filing cabinets, and two paintings hang from the walls of his office. Outside, in the classroom, a student walked by and called out, "I love you, Hop."

Helping Asher

People can drop off cash and gift cards and certificates at Smithsburg High School to benefit the family, or deposit checks for Asher D. Hopkins at any Bank of America. Checks made out to the boy also can be sent by mail to his grandmother, Chris Szczepanik, c/o Bank of America MD 4-325-09-09, 100 S. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21201.

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