Few second graders returning to school this fall had more impressive stories to share about summer than 7-year-old John Cloer of Sierra Madre, Calif.
He was one of 51 youngsters nationwide chosen to play in a recent all-star T-ball game on the White House south lawn.
The road to the White House once seemed unlikely, recalled his parents, Bill and Gina Cloer.
|John Cloer, left, poses with President George W. Bush, baseball great Frank Robinson and a fuzzy mascot. (Photo by Gina Cloer)|
In February 2004, three months shy of his third birthday, John was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). For the next four years, he was treated at City of Hope.
The diagnosis was especially difficult for Bill Cloer, who lost both his parents to cancer. Yet, he and his wife were grateful to have their son cared for at City of Hope. “We felt like we were getting the best treatment — and in our own neighborhood,” said Gina Cloer.
“That first year was like a movie — really dramatic,” she said. Chemotherapy treatments robbed John of his energy, appetite and hair. Their other son, Stevie Ray, was only three months old when John was diagnosed, so both boys spent much of their early life at the hospital.
Gradually, John’s energy, appetite and hair returned, yet due to his compromised immune system, doctors restricted his public contact. Eventually he was permitted to go to school and play sports. John flirted with karate, but when his father signed him up for T-ball, the kindergartner found his true love.
T-ball eased John’s transition to a normal childhood. He stayed after games to work on batting and catching, and he reveled in teammates’ progress as much as his own — a characteristic he might have honed from dealing with his sidekick sibling, 4-year-old Stevie Ray.
His coach Mike Comer nominated John to represent California at the White House game on July 16 because “he epitomizes the very best in T-ball.”
|A ball drops toward John Cloer’s mitt. (Photo by p.cunningham)|
John doesn’t remember much about his cancer treatment, his mom said.
“I see an energetic boy who makes friends very easily,” Gina Cloer said, describing her son during a recent television interview. “Sometimes I feel John is making up for some lost time. He packs a lot into his day.”
He is lucky to have been diagnosed during a time of less prejudice about cancer, she added.
She also offered hope to other families still reeling from diagnoses or struggling through treatment. “Life is more challenging, but it can also be sweeter,” she said. “Health can absolutely be restored. That’s the biggest lesson.”
Another is the appreciation for normalcy. “The mundane things are so thrilling,” she said, whether it means John now can spend the entire day in school or he can speculate about career plans (scientist, rock star or baseball player, depending on his mood).
Yet, the Cloers also have enjoyed some extraordinary moments. Their 21-year-old daughter, Heather, entered nursing school, Bill Cloer joined City of Hope’s Speakers Bureau, and John recently took the field with other patients during a Dodgers game. He also handed singer Miley Cyrus an award onstage during her recent concert benefiting City of Hope.
These days, John returns to City of Hope about once a month for check-ups.
Said his mom: “I think he feels like he’s coming to say ‘hi’ to friends and to catch up.