04/17/11 — Making his wish come true

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Making his wish come true

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 17, 2011 1:50 AM

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Graham Henry, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, was given a flight out of Wayne County Airport where he was allowed to take the controls. Henry is battling cancer.

Katie Henry remembers when teachers used to worry about her little boy.

"They called me and said he wouldn't talk -- that all he would do is make these sounds," she said. "They really thought something was wrong with him."

But when, in the presence of both his mother and teachers, Graham started the sputtering again, all Katie could do was laugh.

"They were his plane noises," she said, doing her best to mimic what she heard that day. "I told them, 'If he's got a problem, a lot of kids do.'"

More than a decade later, at 17, Graham still has a passion for high-speed flight.

"I've wanted to be a pilot forever, really," he said. "I always liked anything that's fast -- cars, planes, anything -- and jets are the fastest things out there."

So when the Make-A-Wish Foundation suggested the young man take to the skies in advance of the Wings Over Wayne Air Show, he jumped at the chance.

And Friday, his eyes lit up when a pilot led him to a gray Cessna 02-A that was shot at more than a dozen times during the Vietnam War -- an aircraft he had no idea he would soon be commanding in the skies over Goldsboro.

"I've been looking forward to this all week," he said.

Not even a year ago, Graham was working for a grocery store when a reckless driver changed his life.

"I was pushing carts and a car swerved at me. It kind of came around a corner and almost hit me," he said. "When it did, I had to swerve the carts to avoid a collision, and it kind of pulled a tendon or something in my shoulder."

And with each hour that passed, the pain grew more intense.

"It started getting worse and worse, and after a couple days, it was hurting really bad," Graham said.

But the boy had no idea that when he finally went in for treatment, doctors would make a shocking diagnosis -- that the cyst they identified in a preliminary X-ray was something far more serious.

"The MRI showed a baseball-size tumor right here in his chest," his mother said, putting her hand near her heart. "The intense reality was that they said it was nothing -- that it was benign. They said not to worry. Then, one day, the doctor walks in and says, 'Son, I'm sorry. It's cancer.' It was pretty awful."

Graham was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma -- a rare disease that, if not detected early, brings with it a grim prognosis.

But he chose not to focus on what might happen.

"If somebody told me before it happened that it would happen to me, my thought of what my reaction would be is much different than what it was," he said. "When they actually told me, 'You have cancer,' I basically just got numbed almost. I was like, 'What's the next step?'

"I didn't break down. I just sat there and thought, you know, 'This is really happening. Now what do I do? What am I in for now?' You don't know if you're going to make it, but I really wasn't afraid. I don't know how to explain it."

Katie kept control of her emotions, too.

There was no other choice but to be strong, she said.

"Things just started happening so fast. They hand you papers. They are in total control. It was all such a blur," Katie said. "But still, it was just this numb, I can't believe this is happening to us kind of feeling. You can hardly believe it."

Graham nodded his head.

"You know, everybody thinks, 'Cancer is never going to happen to me.' I mean, I never thought it would. I thought cancer is for sick people," he said. "But it really can happen to anybody."

The Henrys decided to seek treatment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"The care has been outrageously good," Katie said.

But Graham would quickly learn that fighting cancer is no easy task -- that chemo-therapy and radiation are not for the faint of heart.

"I can't even describe how close to dead you feel," he said. "Your mouth is sore. Everything hurts. There is no real way to describe how crappy it is."

Katie characterized it as "living in Hell."

But she would tell you that even the darkest of times bring with them flickers of light.

It was the day before Thanksgiving -- nearly four months after doctors found that tumor.

"It was 8 o'clock at night, the night before Thanksgiving and the doctor, he was trying to get home," Katie said. "But he came from his office, all the way through two hospitals, and said, 'Come with me. I couldn't leave tonight without showing you this.'"

It was Graham's latest


And looking at it Friday afternoon on her iPad still brought a smile to the mother's face -- even now, months after she first laid eyes on it.

The tumor was nowhere to be found.

"The doctor, he pulls

it up and says, 'Happy

Thanksgiving,' and walks off," Katie said. "I couldn't believe it."

Moments after the Air Force Thunderbirds concluded their performance for the dozens of Make-A-Wish children who were invited to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Friday afternoon, Graham talked about how, hours earlier, he got to live a boyhood dream.

"It was sweet. (The pilot) let me fly for like an hour straight," he said. "It was all me."

And while he knows his battle, despite the fact that the tumor is now gone, is far from over -- the boy has one more treatment and has to have his body scanned for the next 10 years -- for a moment in time, he was just another aviator.

"Being a cancer patient, just walking outside is a good feeling, but being able to fly and forget about everything, it's a nice feeling," Graham said. "Yeah, it was a good day."