Return to story
James Dobson, 13, is battling brain cancer and needs a specialized hospital bed at his Spotsylvania County home.
By CATHY DYSON
When Cathy Dobson looks at all the things her son has lost to brain cancer, a room of his own doesn't seem like much to ask.
That's all James Dobson wanted for his 13th birthday last month. He's the same kid who asked for birthday cards last year--and got more than 6,000 after the story about his situation went viral.
James is still getting notes and words of encouragement from people who wonder how he's doing.
Sadly, not well.
That's one reason his parents, Cathy and Danny, are making every effort to give him what he needs, including a sense of independence.
For instance, Cathy went to great lengths last week trying to find a large TV remote that James can use to change the channel himself, despite the tremors in his hands. Her quest led her to the top executive of a cable company, whose secretary called and told her how she could order a large remote that's no longer manufactured.
The Dobsons have tried just about everything within their means to make life better for James, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 5. He went into remission for more than three glorious years--and got to play baseball and get involved at school--until another tumor resurfaced at age 9.
He's suffered damage from the cancer and from drugs and procedures used to treat it. He had 63 rounds of radiation.
"You take a kid who was very active, very sports-oriented; [he] was going all the time," his mother said. "Now he can't eat, he can't walk, he can't talk. He's had a lot of things taken away from him."
His father had been sleeping nearby because James needed care throughout the night. But as James got closer to becoming a teen, he let his family know he wanted the sense of normalcy his own room would provide.
The Dobsons, who live off Leavells Road in Spotsylvania County, gave James their old bedroom and set it up with all the medical equipment James requires.
All that's needed now is a specialized hospital bed with a pressurized mattress that will prevent James' skin from "breaking down" and developing bed sores.
Doctors have written letters of necessity to the insurance company, but the matter seems tied up in red tape, Danny said.
Lisa Taylor, a co-worker of Cathy's at Mary Washington Healthcare's Homecare America store, is asking the community's help in raising money for the bed.
"Why not this simple wish for such a brave, unselfish boy?" Taylor said. "It really touched my heart."
She said a new one costs $50,000, but the Dobsons said they'd be happy with a used one. The kind James needs costs $8,000 to $10,000, his mother said.
James, whose weight hovers between 94 and 100, has been having a lot of back pain. As his condition has worsened, his skin is more sensitive and brittle, his parents said.
If he develops bed sores and needs to hospitalized, he would go into intensive care because he's on a ventilator. His mother said that would cost the insurance company a lot more than a bed would.
She and her husband, a Spotsylvania animal control officer, are grateful for the ways the community already has helped.
Cathy had to take a leave of absence from her job in January when James got sicker. Family, friends, fellow members at New Heights Christian Church, and "people we don't know" have given money to pay for medical supplies their insurance doesn't cover.
Danny's father stays with James every day. Two of Cathy's aunts come once a week to help with housework.
James' former teachers at Battlefield Elementary School still visit faithfully. They're there every Thursday night during "American Idol" season, to watch the show with James.
Others helped make home renovations when James started using a wheelchair. Another church group plans a fundraiser in December.
Cathy, who wears a black wristband with the word "BELIEVE" in bold white letters, said their faith, help from others and James' positive outlook keep them going.
"He says he'll be OK, that God will take care of him," she said. "He's banking on that miracle, and that's what keeps us going."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Donations can be made to the James F. Dobson Medical Fund at Carter Bank & Trust, 10407 Courthouse Road, Spotsylvania, Va., 22553.
James Dobson has always been a sports fan. There's a life-size cutout of wrestler John Cena in the den, a photo in the hallway of James throwing out the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game, and an NFL spread on his bed. Dallas Cowboys memorabilia fills his room.
Even though he can't talk anymore, James makes it very clear that, because of his fondness for the Cowboys, he doesn't like the Washington Redskins.
"Don't you like RGIII?" he was asked, about the Redskins' new quarterback, Robert Griffin III.
James vigorously--no, make that adamantly--shook his head "no."