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Community rallies around baby with cancer

Grit. It's the perfect name for a Lawrence baby about to undergo his sixth surgery, and his fourth at St. Jude.

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LAWRENCE, KS — Grit. It's the perfect name for a Lawrence baby about to undergo his sixth surgery, and his fourth at St. Jude.

It's a scene many of us take for granted: a family together, playing in their family room. As father Nolan Henderson said with a smile, "this is the most time we've spent together in this house since January 8th."

Nine-year-old Ella Avant played near the fireplace. "We've been home, and I like it a lot, because I get to sleep in my own bed."

Cancer has tried to steal these moments.

"It's called embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma," said Nolan.

And his son is called, appropriately, Grit. It was his father's idea, well before the baby was born, to name his child that.

"Someday, he'd just be known as a really hard worked. 'That kid, Grit's got grit!' Now., we know he has it, but his life's on the line."

FOX4 spoke with the Hendersons on a rare day when they were all in Lawrence together. And they savored every second. Grit pulled his sister's hair. She handed him toys. Nolan and Laura Henderson just laughed.

"Our emotions have been so up and down," said mother Laura. She's a special education teacher at Free State High School in Lawrence, where she met Nolan. But since she gave birth to their son in September, she hasn't been in the classroom much. First it was because of maternity leave, then it was because of the tumor surrounding Grit's prostate and encroaching on his bladder.

Laura, Nolan, and Grit left Lawrence Sunday afternoon, headed back to St. Jude in Memphis, and for seven-month old Grit's sixth surgery. It's scheduled for first thing Thursday morning.

"But we know," said Nolan, "by the time our heads hit the pillow, Thursday, that the tumor will be out of his body. And that will be something to celebrate."

The community - educators, athletes, even just people around Lawrence - have rallied behind the infant. Back in February, rival basketball teams raised money for the family.

"It's very overwhelming," said Nolan, a Free State football coach, "and very humbling to know there's all these people who have your back."

Insurance and private donations cover the medical expenses burden. Yet there are other burdens the family still carries.

They will forever be a family with Grit. And they will forever be a family that fought cancer.

"Anytime people have a chance to - no matter what organization - to help out kids with cancer, do it," Nolan said. "It's the right thing to do."

The staff at Free State High School in Lawrence have chipped in enough days off that Laura is able to stay with her son in Memphis the rest of the school year. St. Jude provides a place for Laura to stay. Nolan makes the trek to Memphis every week.

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