When a little boy is diagnosed with a terminal disease, the only things you can do are hold him tight and make every day he has left happier than the day before.
It’s been that kind of week for Brayden Chandler, 3, whose doctors delivered the worst news imaginable to his parents earlier this month.
Brayden’s bilateral Wilms tumors — which means both his kidneys have tumors — are inoperable.
“Getting news like that, you’re just beside yourself,” Brayden’s mother, Jackie Marinelli, told the Philadelphia Daily News, having endured 13 months of tests and chemo treatments with her boy.
Brayden’s paternal grandmother, Dolly Chandler, said she had just baby-sat Brayden a couple of days before his terminal diagnosis. Her grandson with a crush on Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” appeared okay as any other kid.
“My heart hurts so bad,” Chandler told the Daily News. “He’s only 3. It’s not right. It’s not fair.”
So everybody scrambled. Of course Brayden’s scheduled Make-A-Wish trip to Walt Disney World was moved up from April to February, and in Florida he had a blast like any toddler would.
He fawned over Disney characters he met. He went on rides. He smiled and laughed.
But what waited for Brayden and his parents upon their return to the Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday pumped up the festivities to a level no one was expecting.
Police officers from each of Philadelphia’s five-county region lined the exit when Brayden and his parents disembarked from the plane. And more than 100 police cruisers were waiting to escort their hero back to his front door in Springfield, Pa.
Seems before he left for Florida, Brayden got a chance to visit the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, as well as the Folcroft (Pa.) Police Department, where Chief Robert Ruskowski made Brayden an honorary officer and awarded him with a police badge and corporal stripes.
“Aside from the feeding tube and breathing tube, he was a little boy jumping up and down and all excited,” Ruskowski told the Daily News. “On a professional and personal level, it’s something I will never forget.”
Folcroft Officer Dan White and state Fraternal Order of Police conductor James Harrity, who knows Brayden’s dad, appear to be at the root of the giant escort.
Once an email was sent to area police departments asking for participation in the escort, other departments asked if they could be involved, and on a day when no more than 30 cars were expected to show up, more than 150 were on hand.
“It put tears in my eyes during the escort,” White told the Daily News. “Every intersection we crossed was blocked by surrounding departments. Words cannot express.”
And at Brayden’s house, more than 200 residents packed the sidewalks to welcome him home.
“It’s amazing,” Marinelli said of the fanfare. “I couldn’t believe it.”
When Brayden’s limo arrived at his house late in the afternoon, his family didn’t exit right away — they took a few minutes to sit and collect themselves as squad cars with lights flashing lined the street.
Brayden’s dad, Jason Chandler, held tight to his crying son, overwhelmed by the activity (not to mention a TV news chopper flyover).
Brayden’s mom knew it wouldn’t be long before her “spunky” son was over the shock of the welcome. “He will fight you to the core; his favorite word is ‘No,’” she told the Daily News. “Even in the hospital, he was fighting every doctor, telling them, ‘No, I’m good.’”
Could there be any other retort from this boy, who loves this pair of tunes from the musicals “Newsies” and “Annie”?
They are, fittingly, “Seize the Day” and “Tomorrow.”