Six-year-old Scarlett Norman developed a passion for helping children with cancer.
She never dreamed how that cause had touched her life, though. She had a brother she didn’t know about who died of cancer at age 4.
Scarlett is the daughter of Anne Norman, a drama and music teacher for Carlisle School. She is the granddaughter of Dillard and Patsy Norman and niece of Scott Norman.
She would have had a 17-year-old brother, Blaise Borland, except that he died in 2000 at the age of 4.
“I’ve stressed out for over six years (over) telling her about her brother,” her mother said. “I didn’t want that to burden or worry her.”
Around Christmas, Scarlett saw a television commercial for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. “She really had a heart for little children who were sick,” her mother said. She began asking about sick children regularly.
Meanwhile, Carlisle kindergarteners faced an opportunity for charitable projects. To mark the 100th day of school, her kindergarten teacher Terry Spears challenged the children to perform 100 acts of kindness or create something that shows the 100 days. The baseline of marking the 100th day of school is to be sure the children can count to 100, Spears said, but the teachers hoped children would take it a step higher by encouraging “student action” in the community.
Scarlett saw the project as an opportunity to help children with cancer.
“She always thinks a toy can cheer anyone up,” said family friend Sharon Dalton. “Anne talked to her about a ‘brave box’ that they have in some hospitals for sick children. She decided she wanted to collect $100 to buy toys for that box to cheer up kids who were sick.”
Scarlett covered all bases in asking for donations — “friends, family, neighbors, even the Nelson dealership where Uncle Scott worked,” Dalton said. “I bet she told the story to at least 70 people.”
Recently, Norman drove her daughter to the pediatric oncology department at Carilion Memorial Hospital in Roanoke to deliver the toys.
Norman received a shock when they got there: The nurse who received the toys, Melissa Clark, had been her son’s nurse almost 15 years ago.
That somehow let Norman know it was time to talk with Scarlett about the brother she did not know about.
As soon as they got home, Norman told her, “‘Long before you were here, I had a little boy named Blaise.’” Then she filled her in on how Blaise had, and died of, cancer.
When she showed Scarlett pictures of him, the girl’s response was, “‘Mama, he looks like me.’ I said, ‘That’s because God sent you little pieces of him, your hair, the sparkle in your eyes, your smile.’”
Norman had feared what her daughter’s response to the heavy news might be. What she did not expect was her daughter’s positive reaction: “‘When I get to heaven, I’ll have a brother!’”
Knowing about her brother only added fuel to Scarlett’s fire to help children with cancer.
“She seems just to really have a passion to it which is just crazy,” Norman said. “She’s just drawn to it.”
Blaise Borland was born in 1996. When he was 2 1/2 years old, he was diagnosed with medulla blastoma. He died at age 4, in 2000.
He always was a healthy boy, Norman said, and didn’t show any signs of trouble. Out of the blue, though, his body was slowing down. “He was just shutting down,” Norman said.
A CAT scan showed a tumor the size of a chestnut near his brain. Doctors said, “‘If we don’t get that out now, he will shut down in 48 hours,’” she recalled.
It was removed through surgery, but it turned out later that the tumor “had branched out like fingers,” she said.
He had to go through nine hours of surgery the second time. He used 2 1/2 times his blood volume in transfusions.
Afterward, the doctor gave Norman the dire warning that he might not even wake up.
Thirty minutes later, he did. It was when the nurse put a pulse monitor on his toe. He sat right up, pulled out his breathing tube and started singing “This Little Piggy.”
“We fought it for a year and a half,” his mother recalled, “with radiation, chemo. At one point they almost had it all completely in remission, but then it got in his spinal fluid.”
Throughout it all, he never let down his good spirits, Norman said. “I named him right, because he was just a light. Everybody he touched, their lives were changed.
“He taught all of us that every single day is precious.”
“He was an amazing, amazing little boy,” she said. “I watched him go through some things that would have killed somebody,” but he kept up his spirits.
“Scarlett is so much like him. Scarlett is on fire.”