Nathan on the field*
St. John’s Preparatory School/The Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey
By Julie Rattey
“Hold on, bro,” he managed.
|Help from the Benedictines
St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, Minnesota, is run by the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey. “Life together in this place,” reads part of the school’s mission statement, “is built on trust, love, respect, and a genuine interest and concern for one another.” To learn more about the school, visit sjprep.net or call 800-525-PREP. To find out more about the abbey, visit saintjohnsabbey.org or call 320-363-2011.
In September 2007, Nathan was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a bone disease resulting from the steroids Nathan was given during his cancer treatment. The condition is causing deterioration in Nathan’s thigh bones and may affect his knee joints. Through swimming, weight training, and other exercise, Nathan is building up strength to try and stop the progress of the disease in order to play baseball again this year.
The game paused as the two brothers sat on the grass, their breath making little white clouds in the chill November air. Football season must really have worn me out, Nathan thought. He gazed past the sturdy oak tree in the front lawn of their farm outside Cold Springs to the fields where, that summer, row upon row of golden corn had stood tall in the sunlight. Nathan tugged at his Minnesota Twins sweatshirt. He suddenly felt so tired.
“C’mon, boys,” called their dad from the front door. “That’s enough football for today. Nathan, we’re taking you to the doctor’s. I can hear you coughing from inside. I don’t want you getting pneumonia.”
I have cancer, Nathan thought slowly, as though breaking the news to himself. He saw everything from his old life — school, band, all the sports he played — slipping away.
When the family eventually drove home, Nathan stared out the window at a world that seemed sinister and strange. Buildings stood cold and indifferent against a bleak, gray sky. People hurried forward against a brisk November wind, their faces shrouded in scarves and mufflers. It seemed to Nathan as though it were he, and not the coldness of the wind, that the passersby were trying to avoid. As they pulled up to the house, Nathan stared across at the cornfields. Th e stalks were brittle stumps, the ground frosty and cold.
God, he prayed, are you there? What’s going to happen to me?
“Getting that dog was a good idea, I guess,” his mother said, grinning.
Nathan ruffled Riley’s white coat. “He’s so funny,” he said. “He’s this foot-tall terrier, but he thinks he’s a Doberman.”
“He’s got a fighting spirit,” his mom said. “Like someone else I know.”
Nathan rolled his eyes, but smiled. “Touché, Mom.”
|Nathan gives back
In October 2007, Nathan was a volunteer teen counselor at Camp Sunshine, a week long camp for children with lifethreatening illnesses in Warrens, Wisconsin. He also works with other pediatric cancer families from central Minnesota in a grass-roots effort to establish a local organization, KidsCan. “Our hope,” writes Nathan, “is that KidsCan will offer networking and resources to families dealing with pediatric cancer, helping to support the child and family through and beyond treatment.”
Dinner at Nathan's house
"Staples during the winter months at our house," writes Pam Walz, Nathan's mom, "are homemade soups, chili, and stew." Click HERE to learn how to cook the family favorite.
Nathan rearranged himself on the futon and settled back to work. He missed the basement bedroom he shared with Brian, but he was too weak to go up and down the stairs. For now, Nathan told himself firmly.
For encouragement, he looked to his homework, which was topped with a note of support from Kathy Doom, the academic dean at St. John’s Preparatory School. Nathan smiled as he thought of how supportive his school had been: Friends had called and visited, teachers had offered to tutor, Ms. Doom had made sure he got all his assignments, and students and school administrators alike had helped coordinate a benefit that raised money for new equipment at the children’s hospital. With the support of his school, and Nathan’s own determination, he was keeping up a 3.5 GPA. It was like pulling teeth to motivate himself to work when he felt ill. Still, he didn’t want to fall behind.
“When you’re feeling a little better,” his mother said, sitting beside him, “I thought we’d go to one of the baseball games at St. John’s.”
Of all the sports Nathan played, baseball was his favorite. He loved the smell of a leather glove and fresh-cut grass on the field. He loved the sound of the ball snapping in the catcher’s mitt and the satisfying crack of the bat when it connected with a ball. Nathan wondered, though, how he’d feel about watching from the sidelines. He’d gone to a school basketball game the previous fall. At first he’d felt exhilarated, surrounded by the familiar smell of sweat and sneakers, and by the hellos and how-are-yous of friends and teachers. But watching his classmates bound along the court, their limbs lithe and healthy, had been harder than he’d thought. He’d ached to be out there, too, sweating and scoring points. He wanted to remember what it felt like to not have to think about his body, unless it was to complain about muscles sore from too much play. Nathan had promised himself that as soon as he was able, he would work hard to play sports again.
“Hon?” Pam looked anxiously at her silent son. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine, Mom,” Nathan grinned. “Nothing to worry about!”
His mother’s eyes watered. “I’m sorry you’ve had to miss out on so much.”
Nathan hated to see his mom upset. “I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this, Mom,” he said. “I think in a way, this is much harder on you and Dad than it is on me.”
Nathan felt his mother’s warm tears against his face as she reached over and hugged him tightly. “You are so brave,” she whispered.
Nathan felt his legs tremble as he stepped onto the baseball field — not from illness or nervousness, but from excitement. It was his first baseball game in two years, and the weather couldn’t have been better. The June sunshine spread over everything — the bleachers, the field, the players. He tipped his head up to feel the warmth on his face, taking in the smell of the grass and the sounds of the field — shoes scuffing the dirt, the leathery smack of fists being thrust into mitts, and the cheers of friends, family, and teachers on the sidelines.
It had been a rough road to recovery, and it wasn’t over yet. Nathan still wasn’t able to play basketball or football, and easing into baseball hadn’t been a piece of cake. It wasn’t clear what would happen in the years to come. But right now, today, it felt so good to be on the field again. CD