BEFORE: Five of Cullen Crawford's longtime buddies enjoyed a summer get-together with him at the home of a family friend this summer. In support of their buddy they decided to shave their heads so everyone would look the same. They are, back row, from left: Levi Hargrove, Jacob Foley and Zach Steed; front row: Jacob Alford, Crawford and Mitch Webber.
AFTER: Coach Billy Webber had the honor of shaving the heads. From left, back row: Levi Hargrove, Jacob Foley and Zach Steed; Front row: Jacob Alford, Crawford and Mitch Webber.
THAYER -- During the 2004 Mighty Mite football season at Thayer, Cullen Crawford's friends and family could tell there was something wrong.
The normally tough and active young man complained of headaches, neck pain and frequent nausea. Even though he was in pain, he never missed a practice or a game.
On April 18 Cullen's mom, Becky, took him to Dr. Jones, an optometrist in West Plains. The family thought they had exhausted every avenue for finding a cure for this problem. Calvin, Cullen's dad, was in West Memphis working and Cheryl Foley was taking care of Cullen's two little sisters while he and his mother were at the doctor that day. Becky assumed she and Cullen would return home that evening after the doctor appointment to pick up the girls. They never dreamed their world would totally change on that day.
On April 18, 2005, Dr. Jones diagnosed Cullen with a brain tumor. He told Becky the family needed to go to a hospital and have some tests run on Cullen that very day.
All alone, yet courageously, Becky climbed into the back of the ambulance with her little boy and started on a journey, with no idea how it would turn out. Calvin made a speeding trip to St. Louis as soon as he got the news.
After a definite diagnosis of a malignant medulla blastoma, two brain surgeries and several weeks later in St. Louis, Cullen was transferred to St. Jude's in Memphis. He went through another surgery, extensive radiation and physical therapy.
Despite sickness, loss of motor skills and speech, Cullen fought on. His parents stood by his side, never giving up hope. Through prayers, tears and courage they helped pull him through this difficult time.
Despite his inability to walk, the loss of motor skills, and his speech impairment, Cullen still interacted with his family and his "buddies." Many of them made trips to St. Louis and Memphis to visit him in the hospital. Even though he wasn't able to play baseball this summer with his team, they remembered him by wearing #20 CC on the shoulder of their jerseys (Cullen's number and initials).
Cullen and his family got to come home for a few weeks this summer. He was even able to attend a few days of school with his friends in August. While at home in Thayer, they continued his physical therapy.
Some of his buddies decided that since Cullen had lost all of his hair due to radiation, they would shave their heads, too. On Aug. 8 Cullen, Jacob Alford, Jacob Steed, Levi Hargrove, Mitch Webber and their families went to Zach Steed's house where they grilled hamburgers, ate watermelon, swam, played PlayStation 2 and finally got their heads shaved with clippers by Thayer football coach Billy Webber. Roger Foley and Kevin Steed added the final touches to the little bald heads with razors and shaving cream to give them a slick shine. Cullen could not swim but he really gave them some competition on the video games. It was just like old times again. All these families were used to going to ball games, sharing meals and visiting together, as well as running the boys back and forth to each other's houses through the years. Five of the boys have been together since their Kiddie Korral Daycare days.
That night was an emotional time for the parents since they hadn't had a chance to all visit since last spring. Jenny Alford made a slide show with the song "Lean On Me" in the background. All the parents said that going through a tragedy with someone you are really close to puts your life in perspective.
Cullen went back to St. Jude's Aug. 29. He has now started chemotherapy and the length of his stay is indefinite. The Crawfords said the prayers and help from all family, friends and the community have been greatly appreciated by the Crawfords who have always been the type to help others, too.
Family friend Lana Steed said Cullen seems to be doing better, and his motor skills are improving. "He is a tough kid and has the determination of a grown man. I have always heard that you can determine someone's success by the amount of true friends they have," she said.
"If that's the case, then Cullen is the most successful guy around. We look forward to the days when all our families can visit together again and watch all the boys run around, torturing their sisters, and just act like kids again. We know that day will come again, and with humble hearts we pray for its quick return," said Steed.