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7-year-old’s leukemia battle rallies church & community

JAY, Fla. (BP)–Many people in the remote north Florida community of Jay can remember coming together to view a two-month-old, wrapped snugly baby boy in a handmade manger full of hay at First Baptist Church’s first and only live nativity scene.

Now, seven years later, that same boy, Dillon Diamond, has brought the community together once again — but this time with the unsettling diagnosis of leukemia just days before Thanksgiving.

“Dillon has always been a community baby,” said his mother, Susan Diamond. She and Dillon’s father, Stuart, “always had him with us wherever we went. Beginning with being baby Jesus, and us being so active in church and the school with our other children, everyone has always known him.”

Churches from the area — First Baptist, Cora Baptist, Brownsdale Baptist, Ebenezer Assembly of God, Mt. Carmel Methodist and Cobbtown Mennonite, to name a few — have donated money and time in an effort to help the Diamond family.

Notably, First Baptist of Jay, the Diamonds’ home church, has set up a fund to help renovate the Diamond family’s home, which is 90 years old. Bert Settle, treasurer and a deacon of the Jay congregation, has spearheaded the volunteer renovation project.

“He and Oakland Ard, as well as others, have worked countless hours here,” Susan Diamond said. “If there were saints in Baptist churches, Bert Settle would be one in Dillon’s eyes.”

The Diamonds have four children, Duane, 23; Dustin, 18; Drew, 15; and Dillon, 7.

They learned of Dillon’s condition after he was treated for pneumonia in September 1999. When Dillon’s condition worsened, his pediatrician ordered a chest X-ray, which revealed a mass wrapping around Dillon’s trachea and causing him to have difficulty breathing. The mass, a conglomeration of swollen lymph nodes, caused his left lung to collapse and his diaphragm to stop functioning. Doctors said the mass likely had been present for about four years.

Dillon was transported from Jay Hospital to Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Pensacola for further evaluation. People from the community gathered around his family in the hospital waiting room as Dillon was put to sleep for a spinal tap, lymph node biopsy and bone marrow biopsy. The diagnosis was T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare type with only 2,500 cases diagnosed a year.

Dillon was immediately started on medication in the hope of dissolving the mass.

Within 24 hours, there was a noticeable reduction, and in a week the mass was gone, his family noted.

Doctors came to the family and acknowledged God’s hand in Dillon’s phenomenal response.

“Since then, God has given me a peace,” Susan said. “I can look at Dillon and see what God is doing in his life.”

Dillon, who was hospitalized for 30 days initially, had to return on Christmas Eve when his blood counts fell too low.

“People from the community and our church and other church families brought Christmas to us,” Susan said.

The hospital was very generous and supportive of the church families’ presence, the Dillons added.

“Nurses would stop me in the hall to say, ‘Our church is praying for you,'” Susan said.

Dillon, who had been talking with his parents since he was 5 about accepting Christ and being baptized, made that decision final in the hospital. An area pastor was with Dillon when he invited Jesus into his heart.

Dillon is now in remission, continuing his school studies and regaining the weight he lost because of the illness. He spends every Monday in the hospital all day for chemotherapy.

“He hasn’t experienced any side effects from the chemo other than losing his hair,” Susan said.

Dillon will continue in chemotherapy for the next two years. He also has undergone a 10-day preventative radiation therapy. He will require monthly check-ups, possibly for the rest of his life.

At this point, his hospital expenses have exceeded $100,000. The family is thankful for the state’s Healthy Kids program, which provides insurance for qualified families.

Without that program, “we could not have taken Dillon to the doctor,” Susan said.

Before Dillon came home from the hospital, women from area churches met to help the Diamonds clean house and prepare for Dillon’s homecoming.

Volunteers, under Settle’s leadership, put a new roof on the Diamonds’ house, reconstructed the front porch and added a new back porch. The group also rewired the entire house, putting up new fixtures, and purchased a clothes dryer. New flooring and new ceiling tiles were placed.

“This has all come from donations from all denominations,” Susan said. “We are so thankful for our church family and our pastor, Bro. Chip [Fox]. They have been there for us in such a fantastic way. They have been tremendous.”

A “Diamond Renovations Fund” has been established at First Baptist Church (P.O. Box 59, Jay, FL 32565) to underwrite costs of the remodeling. Also, Regions Bank (P.O. Box 608, Milton, FL 32572) is receiving donations to assist with expenses for Dillon’s ongoing outpatient treatment.

The love shown to Dillon knows no age. One young boy from a nearby community, who had won a Toys R Us gift certificate, gave it to Dillon. He also gave Dillon his bicycle.

One church gave Dillon a Nintendo electronic game because he can’t be outside much. “His immune system is gone and we have to be very aware” of potential exposure to infectious diseases, his mother said.

It is hard for Dillon to talk about his leukemia without crying. But he does appreciate the many expressions of love from neighbors and friends.

Susan recalled, “One day we were sitting in the cancer treatment room, when Dillon looked at me and said, ‘You know, Mom, there are so many people that love me.'”

Stuart and Susan Diamond acknowledged that their world has forever changed with Dillon’s illness. But they see that their church and community have been strengthened as they have pulled together on Dillon’s behalf, and they also remain convinced that God is working through Dillon’s situation.

“His testimony as an adult will be something,” Susan affirmed. “God has something special for Dillon. You take what God gives and go on.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo titles: DILLON DIAMOND and ENJOYABLE MOMENT.

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  • Janet Little Cooper