Not a day goes by when Karen doesn't miss Eric. But she knows one day they'll be together again.
Karen Honeycutt has been the school nurse for Steadley Elementary School for four years. Her son, Eric was two when he was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia (ALL). He was treated at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, lived five years with the disease and passed away August 1987. At the time, Eric had a 17 percent survival rate but if he were to have it today, he would have 88 percent chance of surviving.
“It's been 25 years this August,” Honeycutt said. “He would be 32 – it's hard to believe. ALL is known as the children's disease, supposedly the easiest to cure. For us, that wasn't the case.
“But it makes me happy that the survival rate is so much higher now because that means others won't have to go through what I did.”
That positive outlook on life and amazing support from the school has helped Honeycutt, but she never expected what happened in April this year. The school held a fundraising event to support her Relay for Life team, Eric's Survivors.
Honeycutt and her family were involved with St. Jude, but didn't get involved in the Newton County Relay for Life until later. A friend had invited her to the event, and that's where it started.
“Seeing his name out on an illuminary made me want to get more involved,” Honeycutt said. “The year we made a team the Survivor show was really big, so I simply called our team 'Eric's Survivors.' It stuck.”
This year makes the seventh time the family has had a team for Eric. The team consists of Honeycutt's children, Nathan (was 10 when Eric passed away) and his family, Kayla (who was just a baby when Eric passed away) and her family, and some individuals who would have been classmates of Eric's.
“Our relay team has worked very hard, but never have I ever received like this,” Honeycutt said.
“We like to dream big,” Steadley Principal Dr. Tom Barlow added. “There is a long history of of helping each other here … The event itself teaches our kids the character trait of service, giving without expecting anything in return. But, it also means so much to the students because they want to help their school nurse.”
Page 2 of 2 - “You name it, they rally for it,” Honeycutt said. “I couldn't believe it … I cried that night, I could cry now thinking about it. The teachers go beyond – it was just phenomenal.”
Barlow has been a tremendous support to Honeycutt because he too has lost a child.
Barlow's daughter, Rachael, 21, was killed in a car accident Father's Day weekend when she was driving home to surprise him. Though their children were lost in different ways, they see their situations as the same.
“It will be eight years for me this year,” Barlow said. “Losing a child is the worst, talking about it is wonderful … You can't do for them anymore, and you still have all this love to give. So a special event like this really helps. Faith is priceless – There's a hope. She's not just in my past, but in my future.”
The Newton County Relay for Life is June 8. Until then, Honeycutt says she takes it one day at a time.
“Sometimes it can be a moment-by-moment,” Barlow said. “I still don't understand a lot in life, but one day I will.”
“You have to keep your faith,” Honeycutt added.
“Accidents happen, God didn't make this happen. He's not to blame,” Barlow said.
“We can have a pity party, or make it better for everyone else,” Honeycutt said. “Some day there won't be any cancer and we'll all just have a party.”