A young Virginia boy fighting a rare brain cancer and an inoperable tumor on his spinal cord has inspired countless police, fire and rescue agencies from all over the country to send their support to a family in need of good cheer this holiday season.
Nathan Norman, 6, of Rustburg, Va., and his family are facing incredible hardship due to the fact that Norman has been given 18 months to live. Norman's one Christmas wish was to get as many cards, patches, letters and anything else with a first responder insignia as he can because officers, firefighters and EMTs are his heroes, and Norman has since received hundreds of packages from across the United States.
Norman's struggles were particularly moving to two Hampton Police Department officers, so much so that they will join an officer from the Salem Police Department and several other agencies from throughout New England later this month to deliver gifts to Norman and bring his Christmas wish to life.
"[The other Hampton officer] and I have a combined 27 years of law enforcement experience, and this may in fact be the most important thing we ever do," said a Hampton detective making the trip to Virginia, requesting his name be withheld. "This may be the most significant opportunity we're involved in. We want to try and make it memorable experience for Nathan and his family over the holiday."
The detective requested his name, the name of the other Hampton officer and the Salem officer be withheld because the trip is "all about Nathan and his family" and because he doesn't want to be "lauded or specially recognized" because gestures like this are "what we do."
"We're not looking for attention or accolades," said the detective. "We're going down to provide this family and especially Nathan with a really memorable holiday experience and something to think about and maybe help them get through a really difficult time."
Three years ago, Norman was diagnosed with brain cancer, according to reports from Patch sites in Virginia.
"I remember the doctor saying that there was an abnormality," Dawn Norman told Patch. "The doctor kept telling me over and over that there was an abnormality and then it hit me. He was telling me that my son had cancer."
An operation removed 55 percent of the tumor; however, Nathan has since developed an inoperable tumor on his spinal cord. Since his original diagnosis, he has been on six different chemotherapy treatments and has had three surgeries.
Despite the monthly treatments and chemotherapy medication, Dawn Norman said that doctors have given Nathan 18 months to live.
This August, feeling especially ill after returning from his monthly treatment at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, Nathan asked his parents if they could decorate the house for Christmas because "that would make him feel better." Knowing that this might be his last Christmas, Nathan's family put up the tree, strung the lights and put out all the decorations.
Since those decorations have gone up and Nathan has made his Christmas wish, the story about the 6 year old — who makes and delivers gift bags to the other pediatric cancer patients — has gone viral. The Seabrook Police Department is one of several in New Hampshire that has already sent items to the child.
The Norman family has been incredibly moved from all of the local and national support, and it's gotten to the point where the family has requested people hold off on sending packages for the time being.
Nathan is expected to live to see this Christmas, although the future past that point is far from certain.
"I want to make sure that everyone understands that we do not expect to lose Nathan before Christmas this year," Dawn Norman told Patch. "However we know with each end of treatment, our options are getting less and less. We fully believe he will be with us for Christmas.
"We just don't know about next Christmas."
Ann Piccirillo, a Patch employee in Virginia, contributed to this story.