May 20, 2012
By Kim Roberson
Cancer sucks, but childhood cancer really sucks.
There is something completely unfair about a little boy or girl just starting out their lives having to spend the majority of their time either dealing with chemotherapy or other treatments, or confined to a hotel bed while their little bodies fight a devastating illness.
Such was the case for young Bryson Smith.
If you looked at him, you would have no idea what the little guy with the big smile was going through. You see, Bryson was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia almost a year ago. Most adults have a hard time saying the words that describe his cancer. Imagine being a four-year old and being told that is what is ravaging your small little body. It started with some pain in his little knees, and ended up being a life-altering diagnosis.
“When Bryson was 2 ½ or three years old, he started complaining that his knees were always bothering him, and as mom and dad, and having an older son, Justin, we just thought it was growing pains,” explains Bryson’s father, Jim. “But it got to the point where instead of being once a month or once every couple months it kind of became a daily occurrence that he was always complaining. We were just feeding him aspirin and thinking he was going through a long growth spurt. And then one time he started complaining that his hips were hurting and his mom and I thought maybe it was something more that we need to look at.”
They took Bryson to their pediatrician, who then requested an MRI, which then turned into blood tests.
“That was on a Wednesday afternoon around two. Around 4:30 (that afternoon) we got the phone call that the blood tests had come back, but the nurse couldn’t read us the results, so she said she would have Dr. Stanley call us. And Dr. Stanley called us and said ‘I hate to give you the news but your son has cancer.’”
That same evening the family headed to Levine Children’s Hospital, where Bryson began three days’ worth of blood testing to determine just what kind of cancer he had.
Photo Kim Roberson
To help him fight his leukemia, Bryson has been spending a lot of time at Blume/Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, NC. If all goes well, he still has more than two years’ worth of treatment left to go before hopefully making his way towards full remission. That will have been almost half of his life fighting cancer.
Jim Smith is a former fabricator with Hendrick Motorsports (HMS), Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI), and Roush Fenway Racing (RFR). He now is the owner of Street Customs and Restorations in Mooresville, NC. You might have actually seen Smith recently competing on the new SPEED TV show “Car Warriors”, where he worked as part of a team to re-build a 1970 Chevy Chevelle.
As Smith worked, he kept a photo of Bryson nearby, and took time to share their family story with the viewers.
The final result was a super sweet white car with and orange stripe (representing the fight against childhood cancer) leading to a back of orange with skulls on the sides. On the trunk lid was an airbrushed picture of Bryson holding his well-loved stuffed dog Lala. The judges loved it, and Jim’s team won the competition. The car will be auctioned off and the proceeds will benefit the efforts of the foundation the family has started.
Jim and his wife, Heather, saw other families like theirs dealing with childhood illness during their visits to Blume/Hemby, and decided they needed to do something to help.
“Laying in the hospital one night, the word ‘fuel’ came to me in a dream,” says Jim with a smile. “I woke up the next morning and said ‘Heather -- fuel!’ and she said ‘Fuel what? What’s fuel?’ And I said ‘I don’t know -- it’s a word that came to me in a dream last night.’”
About a day later, Heather came back with what fuel would mean to them. They formed Bryson’s F.U.E.L. (Families United to Eliminate Leukemia), a 501.3c charity which helps with the extra daily expenses that families fighting childhood cancer face, including providing gas cards for travel, food gift cards, toy buckets, blankets and even laptops for children to do their school work.
“Instead of raising money to fund cancer research, we actually help directly with the families,” Jim explained. “We buy toys for the children because when they go into the hospital, they don’t have toys to play with because their immune systems are compromised. Those cancer floors don’t get a lot of attention and a lot of sponsorship like the other floors do. So we buy the children toys, some of the older children we’ve bought computers because sometimes they are (hospitalized) two or three months at a time and so they can stay plugged in with their school mates in school, stay on Facebook -- they don’t lose contact with all their friends.
"We provide gas cards, meal cards. We help offset (medical) costs by paying for gas cards. There are some people that are driving hundreds of miles a week to go to the clinic. If we can offset the costs with gas cards, meal cards, hotel cards, that frees up the money they would normally be spending and they can apply it to their hospital bills.”
Many of the people who have helped get Bryson’s F.U.E.L. up and running are in the NASCAR industry -- crew members and drivers. This weekend, Bryson got to go to RFR and help unveil the Greg Biffle Foundation specially designed Ford Raptor charity truck, followed by some time touring the garage and pit road prior to the All-Star Race, and then watching the race as the guest of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. When I asked Smith about the connection with NASCAR, even after he had left to build his own business, his answer was simple. “NASCAR is a family, and the family takes care of its family members.”
I had the privilege of meeting Bryson and his parents this weekend in Charlotte, and couldn’t help but be charmed by the little boy with the strawberry red hair and big smile. He carried not one but two small Carl Edwards cars in one hand as he looked around at all the activity buzzing around him. As I spoke with Jim, Bryson was perched on his dad’s shoulders, and took notice of my recorder. “What’s that?” he asked. When I explained that it was a recorder so I could have a way to remember what his dad said during the interview, he decided he wanted one. And he wanted to go get one now. “Where’d you get it? Can we go get one?”
I have the distinct impression nothing is going to stop Bryson Smith, especially not cancer.
If you would like to learn more about Bryson’s F.U.E.L. and the work they do -- or to donate to their efforts -- you can visit their web site at Bryson’s F.U.E.L.....
Follow Kim on Twitter: @ksrgatorfn
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.