The Fighter

The email on my screen reads:

“Dear Sean, my oldest grandchild, Bryson, is 11 years old and was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, stage three, just one day before he started sixth grade.

“This cancer covered ninety percent of his body, and after four terrifying chemo rounds the cancer is dying. But this type is so aggressive that if there is one cell left it could cover his whole body in a few days again.

“He is the sweetest and most fun guy, but I’ve seen his smile fade. His spirit is sinking and he has indicated he doesn’t want to go through this anymore. We tell him to keep fighting. What words can you, a stranger, say to help him get through this?”

Dear Bryson, I was ten years old when I first met a boy named Darren Wilkinson in Boy Scouts. He was smaller than the other boys. Everyone always thought he was my little brother because he was so tiny and frail.

Frail he might have been. But Darren was no shrinking violet. Ask anyone. Darren had the personality of a junkyard Rottweiler.

Darren was born prematurely with an array of cardiac problems and physical maladies most could never endure.

Darren had undergone multiple surgeries. He bore a five-inch scar on his sternum which he would gladly show you for a quarter. The scar on his upper thigh would cost you a buck.

He was born with only four fingers on his right hand, no thumb—surgeons later reattached another finger as a makeshift thumb. His knees didn’t work right. He had diabetes. He was partially deaf.

Whenever he exerted himself during baseball practice, he had trouble breathing and his lips would turn blue. And once, during recess, after overdoing it, he almost went into a coma.

Darren’s father always carried a small cooler of medication and gave Darren injections every few hours. We boys were often reminded by our mothers and teachers that without those injections Darren could die.

Still, the kid had a world-class sense of humor. He was not embarrassed, for example, about getting jabbed with a syringe in public. He even made jokes about it.

I remember at one Boy Scout meeting Darren pulled down his undershorts while everyone was earning a knot-tying merit badge.

With his little white butt exposed to the world, Darren shouted, “Daddy! It’s time for my shot!”

And we all howled.

My most vivid memory of Darren happened at the obstacle course in Boy Scout camp.

The course was a complex gauntlet designed to test the mettle of all fifth-grade men. I suppose the challenge was intended to teach us trust, or teamwork, or something like that.

Instead, it taught us that whenever Bobby Felder got his shoes stuck in the rope net it was scientifically possible to laugh so hard that Coke would spew from your nasal passages.

Darren, however, took the obstacle course very seriously.

One year Darren proclaimed to all within earshot that he was going to win the whole obstacle-course race. He invited all critics and doubters to kiss his injection site.

Thus, one fateful afternoon, after the rest of us struggled to muscle our chubby little bodies through the complicated course, it was Darren’s turn.

We all held our breath.

Darren charged through the first half of the challenge like a miniature Hereford bull. We watched as he made his way past the ladder climb, the tunnel crawl, and the low hurdles.

But when he got to the tightrope walk, you could tell he was fading fast.

The tightrope was the hardest section, by far. It was a collection of steel cables strung from utility poles, suspended thirty feet off the ground. It was commonly referred to as the place where tenderfoots go to die.

We scouts stood miles beneath Darren, watching him get harnessed up. He was already fighting to catch his breath, clutching his chest, and wheezing.

“He’s never gonna make it,” whispered Dudley Jensen.

“He looks like he’s gonna faint,” said another.

His father tried to talk him out of going any farther, but Darren shoved his father aside and said, “I CAN DO THIS!”

Halfway through the tightrope walk, Darren lost his balance and fell. The safety harness broke his freefall, but it almost snapped his neck. I will never forget the sight of his tiny body dangling like a yo-yo.

Darren’s father ran to him. He unhooked his son’s harness and held him tightly. Everyone gathered around to discover that Darren could hardly speak. Also, he was crying.

And that’s when it happened.

Without wasting time, Darren’s father slung his son over his shoulders and told Darren to “hang on tight.”

Then, Darren’s father carried his son piggy-back-style through the rest of obstacle course. We all stared as one middle-aged man jogged through the zig-zag tires, leapt over hurdles, commando-crawled through mud, and scaled walls with a small ten-year-old slung across his back.

By the time Darren’s father got to the finish line we were all applauding and whistling. Darren’s father looked like he was about to suffer a stroke. And Darren was smiling.

The father-son-duo high-fived, and embraced.

“We did it,” said Darren’s old man, struggling to breathe.

“We did it,” said Darren.

I don’t know much about this life. I know even less about courage. But I know that when you can’t make it another step your Father will carry you.


  1. Miz Liz - December 13, 2021 6:58 am

    And, man!!! Millions of us are praying for you, Bryson. When your pal Sean puts out a story about a brave kid, all us old folks sit up and listen. I just got out of the hospital and I am 84 years old and tired so I know what it means to want to atop fighting. If you decide to keep on, sweet guy, I am praying for strength and courage for you, btave one. 🙏🏻🙏🏻😌💕💕

  2. Lisa - December 13, 2021 9:26 am

    Love this!

  3. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - December 13, 2021 9:45 am

    You don’t stop fighting & we won’t stop praying.

  4. Karen+Erwin-Brown - December 13, 2021 10:06 am


  5. Mary - December 13, 2021 10:50 am

    I’m praying for you, Bryson. And for your family. Your Father is carrying you. ❤️❤️❤️

  6. Audra S Isenhour - December 13, 2021 11:25 am

    Your last sentence brought tears to my eyes. Once again, my challenges pale when compared to a child who needs courage to get through each hour and day. Our Father will carry us if we allow Him. God Bless you Sean.

  7. cengland1600 - December 13, 2021 11:52 am

    One of your very best!

  8. Dianne DeVore - December 13, 2021 12:04 pm

    All I can say is thank you……our Father carries us all if we will just let Him.

  9. Sonya Tuttle - December 13, 2021 12:11 pm


  10. JACKIE LEON DARNELL - December 13, 2021 12:18 pm

    It doesn’t get any better than that!

  11. CherylW - December 13, 2021 12:34 pm

    Yes, He will. Why do I seem to always forget that beautiful fact? Thanks for the reminder.

  12. Lynn S - December 13, 2021 12:35 pm

    I can’t even begin to put myself in your shoes, Bryson. I don’t know what you’re truly feeling ir how exhausted you must be. I do know this because it comes directly from The Promise Make Himself…” Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” and this: “ The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
    He gives power to the powerless…receive it. I’ve added you to my prayers. ♥️

  13. Tina M - December 13, 2021 12:45 pm

    WHY DO YOU MAKE ME CRY MONDAY MORNING?!?! This was so beautiful <3

  14. Farris Jones - December 13, 2021 12:48 pm

    Merry Christmas Bryson! You’ve got this!!! Hoping and praying that you and your family have a wonderful Holiday Season!

  15. Ron - December 13, 2021 12:48 pm

    My prayers this morning is for Bryson, that he’s feel himself in his Father’s shoulders! Truth beautifully shared, Sean!

  16. Ann - December 13, 2021 12:52 pm

    Amen, Sean!….you are truly an inspiration!… CAN DO IT Bryson!

  17. Farris Jones - December 13, 2021 12:52 pm

    Merry Christmas Bryson! Praying they you and your family have a wonderful Holiday Season!!!

  18. Lydia - December 13, 2021 12:54 pm

    Thank you,Sean.We all need to count our blessings daily.We all need to care about others.

  19. Paul McCutchen - December 13, 2021 12:59 pm

    Way to go Sean. Inspiration at it’s best.

  20. Joy Jacobs - December 13, 2021 1:00 pm

    Lymphoma is a horrific thing. I encourage Bryson to be encouraged by the life of so many who have beat cancer.

    Our friend’s son had a promising career laid out for him in the military. He was accepted at The Air Force Academy, he made it through basic training but during his freshman year it was discovered he had lymphoma. They allowed him to stay in school while he received treatment (chemo and surgeries). He was deemed cured until he went for his flight physical his senior year where it was discovered the cancer had recurred. He was able to graduate but He could not remain in the military. He has lived cancer free for 20+ years. He’s a very positive person and has lived a very interesting life.

  21. Jane - December 13, 2021 1:03 pm

    Your pieces frequently make me smile, nod my head in agreement, laugh out loud, etc. Today’s made me cry though. Please never stop writing. I want to cry each and every day.

  22. Randy McGhee - December 13, 2021 1:21 pm

    Amazing story! You outdo yourself every day with stories of courage, love, and a reason for hope!

  23. Susan - December 13, 2021 1:29 pm

    I’m praying for you, Bryson!🙏❤️

  24. Anne - December 13, 2021 1:40 pm

    Thank you for this post…prayers for this little fighter and his family.
    I also needed to be reminded today that when I “can’t make it another step (my) Father will carry (me).” Thank you. Your words make a difference.

  25. Norman Turnipseed - December 13, 2021 1:46 pm

    Bryson I will be praying for you and your family. They love you probably more than they can ever explain but GOD
    Loves you most of all. Talk to HIM and HE will help you and your family through this.

  26. Nancy, Pensacola - December 13, 2021 2:01 pm

    A Good Word, in Due Time. The Best.

  27. Patsy - December 13, 2021 2:07 pm

    Oh my….a perfect response for this precious child. May he have courage, determination and faith that he will be ‘carried’ through🙌🙏❤️

  28. Shelton A. - December 13, 2021 2:07 pm

    That’s real love. Father to Son…thank you for sharing Darren’s story. Blessings and peace to all, especially father and son.

  29. Shelton A. - December 13, 2021 2:15 pm

    Bryson, keep up the good fight. So many are now praying for you and that’s no small thing. You have a huge fight on your hands but “don’t give up, don’t ever give up!” (Jim Valvano, on founding the V Foundation). We support you and love you, Bryson.

  30. NancyB - December 13, 2021 2:38 pm

    Bryson, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the picture of the footsteps in the sand and read the poem that goes with it. In the picture, there are at first two sets of footsteps in the sand where two people have been walking side by side then one set fades and only one set is left, only one person walking. Can’t remember the entire poem but have never gorgotten its meaning. Our Heavenly Father is walking beside us everyday, through every step of our lives, He’s there (two sets of footprints). When life get bad enough that we just can’t go on, He picks us up and carries us rest of the way through whatever the hard part is (the one set of footprints). He’s carrying you now, Bryson, so that you can use all your energy to fight this disease. When you think you can’t go on, remember the one set of footprints in the sand. You and He got this! Millions of us are praying for you Bryson. Don’t give up. Life is full of fantastic “stuff.” You make it through chemo and that “stuff” is yours!

  31. Jan - December 13, 2021 2:39 pm

    We are praying for you Bryson and for your family! Hold on tight and don’t let go! May God bless you and keep you!

  32. Bob Stewart - December 13, 2021 2:43 pm

    You are a good Man Sean

  33. AlaRedClayGirl - December 13, 2021 2:52 pm

    Some of the most positive people I know have/had cancer…one is going through it for the 7th time! I saw this prayer somewhere once and wrote it down: “Dear God, Your will. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.” We may not know why God gives some of us more challenges than others, but realizing that it came from God and wishing to always do His will can strengthen us through the journey. Keep fighting!

  34. Ruth Mitchell - December 13, 2021 2:53 pm

    Sean, as always, you offer a universal message that reaches into all of our souls. I will be praying for Bryson and his recovery and for his family’s courage and support.

  35. Jeannine Auth - December 13, 2021 2:59 pm

    Bryson, you’ve got a whole chorus of people cheering for you. We know that sometimes life isn’t fair, but God can give us the strength to win every battle. You’re already a warrior and beating the heck out of this lymphoma. It’s okay to take a break and then come back stronger than ever. You’re already pretty awesome, so don’t forget it.

  36. R Becker - December 13, 2021 3:00 pm

    Thanks for the reminder of our Father’s care. Bryson, chemo isn’t fun. I wish you courage whatever you face ahead… The Bible contains many verses that can build courage.

  37. Stacey Wallace - December 13, 2021 3:25 pm

    Thanks, Sean. Darren and his Daddy are amazing.

  38. Sandra - December 13, 2021 3:39 pm

    Prayers for you Bryson. ♥️🙏🏻

  39. Robyn - December 13, 2021 3:44 pm

    Dear Sean, Thank you for today’s writings…I needed it. I need to calm the dr & I don’t want to. I needed to read my Father would be carrying me. Thank you, robyn

  40. Rick Putnam - December 13, 2021 4:07 pm


  41. Patricia Gibson - December 13, 2021 4:23 pm

    May God heal and protect Bryson🙏

  42. donnablair - December 13, 2021 4:53 pm

    Please put this on your FB page, I don’t know how.

  43. Patricia Schmaltz - December 13, 2021 5:17 pm

    Crying again… but thank you. You are amazing!

  44. Ken P - December 13, 2021 5:36 pm

    In the words of a great writer (Mr Dietrich) I read “Dont give up, not just yet”. Bryson,the darkest hour is just before dawn. Sunlight and strength are coming.

  45. Karyn - December 13, 2021 5:43 pm

    I absolutely look forward to reading your column every day. You are so positive and uplifting! I either smile, laugh, cry or get goosebumps every time I read it. Sometimes it feels like you are speaking directly to me. Keep up the great work! Thank you for writing.

  46. Christina - December 13, 2021 5:44 pm

    Go Bryson, go! Your family here is cheering you on and sending our love and prayers.

  47. Linda Moon - December 13, 2021 7:23 pm

    Oh my. Just yesterday I received emails from cancer survivors and fighters. Our Squad of Angels will be praying for Bryson when I share his story with them. And Heavenly Angels are and will be interceding for Bryson, too.

  48. Mary Beth Patten - December 13, 2021 7:50 pm

    Bryson, a whole lot of people are sending you strength and prayers. Don’t give up. And Sean, I think you’re wrong about something. You know a whole bunch about life and I think quite a bit about courage, too.

  49. MAM - December 13, 2021 8:39 pm

    Your stories, Sean, continue to amaze. You do it so well that it almost seems effortless, but as a fellow writer, I KNOW that is not true. May our Father carry Bryson through his troubles!.

  50. Sean of the South: The Fighter | The Trussville Tribune - December 13, 2021 9:48 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

  51. Linda Moon - December 13, 2021 11:28 pm

    My Earthly Angels cried, wiped their tears, then replied to me after I forwarded “The Fighter” to them. They are praying.

  52. Karen Snyder - December 14, 2021 3:56 am

    Adding my love and prayers to all the rest headed your way, Bryson. ❤️🙏🏻

  53. Betty Kelly - December 14, 2021 4:02 pm

    Excellent Sean! You can do it Bryson! You have a Heavenly Father who is there for you and will help
    you all the way!!

  54. Larry Wall - December 14, 2021 6:25 pm

    Sean, after reading about young Mr. Bryson, I would like for you to send him a note and ask him to read the comforting words offered to us all in Psalms 23. It should be read by us all each and every day as words of comfort and encouragement. Its words are simple, but strong and reassuring. They have helped me many times when I was struggling in times of weakness and trouble. HE is our good shepherd and a good shepherd will always protect his flock.

  55. Lynn - December 15, 2021 3:13 am

    May God keep a whole host of Angels around you Bryson to heal and protect you.

  56. elizabethroosje - December 15, 2021 3:44 am

    Oh Lord bless this young one and way to knocking this essay out of the ball park. ❤

  57. Anne Trawick - December 15, 2021 4:06 am

    Hang in there, Bryson. You and your Father will make this!
    Sean, you hang in there, as well. I don’t want anything to get my favorite essayist bogged down.

  58. Mary Sirmon - December 15, 2021 5:06 pm

    Our heavenly Father will carry us if we only ask. Thankful of all fathers we have or had. Love you Sean

  59. Kathi harper-hill - December 15, 2021 5:34 pm

    Amen, Brother.

  60. Gayle Wilson - December 22, 2021 9:51 pm

    Amen, He will carry you.

  61. Brianna - December 31, 2021 4:27 am

    I’ll be praying for you Bryson!


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