The Rockwood Files: New Year’s Perspective

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

We got a call last week with upsetting news. Our 22-year-old nephew Andrew was just diagnosed with leukemia. It hit us like a punch in the gut. I can only imagine how it must have felt for Andy and his parents and brothers.

It began a few weeks ago as flu-like symptoms with lower back pain, which led to a routine blood test at a walk-in clinic. When the results came back with white blood cell numbers off the charts, Andy’s life became a blur of hospital tests followed by a diagnosis nobody saw coming.

Like everyone else in the family, I’ve been thinking a lot about Andy and the course of chemotherapy he has just begun. Tom and I check email more often now to see if there’s a new update on how his treatments are going.

Even though he’s a grown man now, I tend to freeze kids in my mind’s eye at whatever age I first met them. And I met Andy when he was 8-years-old. Even back then, it was obvious he was heading toward something big. He was the kind of kid who never met a piece of technology he didn’t intuitively understand. He was like a computer engineer in a little boy’s body.

When Tom and I got married a year later, Andy was our ring bearer and he performed his duties perfectly. After the wedding, he went home with his family to North Dakota and Tom and I started our life as a married couple. We saw him during family reunions and weddings but the long distance kept our visits sporadic. So even though he and his brothers were growing up, I still pictured him as that sweet ring bearer walking confidently down the aisle in his little tuxedo.

Andy went to college and began doing amazing things in computer technology and engineering. In addition to classes, he has been volunteering with the Salvation Army and, earlier this year during a flood, he helped the organization use Google Earth to pinpoint flooded roads and key areas needing help.

And now he’s in a hospital room enduring a toxic blend of medication designed to kill cancer. It’s a scary fight. But frankly I don’t think the leukemia has any idea who it’s up against. It wouldn’t surprise me if Andy turns out to be the first person in history to literally outsmart leukemia. The mind is an amazing thing and this kid has more than his share of brain power.

This news has made me think about 2012 differently. Typically I spend the days leading up to January 1st thinking about things I should get done during the New Year. A successful new year seems to be about accomplishments and marking things off to-do lists. But that stuff doesn’t seem nearly as important now. Because a 22-year-old with talent, a career, a girlfriend, a generous spirit, and a life stretching out in front of him is ringing in the New Year in a hospital bed facing his biggest challenge to date. We’re confident he’ll ace it, as he has done with so many challenges before.

So whether you spend this next year conquering the world or not, remember that life can swerve suddenly. Good health and time with people you love are so much more important than anything else on your resolution list.

And if you’re a praying person, we hope you’ll send up a few for Andy. He’s on a bumpy road back to health and we know the prayers will help smooth the way.

From my family to yours, have a healthy, happy New Year.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.