The Whistle

A whistle beckons the most precious gift of all

Glancing inside the charming home in Prairie Village, Kansas, on Christmas Eve, you see a typical suburban family — a mom and two teenagers enjoying a chili lunch. The stockings are hung on the mantle, including one for their pug Eva. The tree is festooned with ornaments and lights, and the conversation is warm and companionable.

But looking closer, you notice the daughter, 15-year-old Logan Lowrey, is bald. The latest rounds of chemotherapy have taken their toll. Her younger brother, 13-year-old Garrett, seems more mature than most his age. In spite of her cheerful and determined demeanor, their mother, Gina Lowrey, wears an aura of sadness. Just three years ago, this month, Rick Lowrey, her husband and their father, died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism. The family was shattered. Then in February, just as the family was starting to move forward with their lives, Logan was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma bone cancer that had metastasized to both lungs.

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Following her diagnosis, Logan has endured a barrage of medical testing, surgeries, and rounds of intense chemotherapy.

To transcend the long hours when she was tethered to a hospital bed, she immersed herself in videos of marching bands, including her favorite, Ohio State. She admires their routines, their creativity and aspires to play with OSU one day. Meanwhile, she’s determined to continue playing her saxophone and marching with the Shawnee Mission East Band, her “band family,” who has been there for her throughout this challenging journey.

A year ago, when the band received a coveted invitation to play in Rome on New Year’s Day, she threw herself into helping raise money for the trip. Even though she was too weak to attend their big fundraiser, she designed posters for it, and her mom served as treasurer for the project. She was terribly disappointed when mounting health challenges forced her to cancel the trip.

Now, all her friends are leaving for Rome in just three days. Sure, she’s happy for them, but she’s still sad about not going. Yet Logan has a remarkable resilience and a strong spirit.

Which she needs. Only last month, she received devastating news from her oncologist: “The chemo is not working as expected. It’s causing more harm than good. ”

She’s stopped treatments and now, she doesn’t know what her options are. Through all the uncertainty and chaos, the support of her family, her friends in the band, and her music have helped her cope. Her mother has been with her during every challenging moment, spending long hours in the hospital, being her total advocate and champion. Her brother has sacrificed so much, willingly doing without his mother’s attention, going to the hospital after school, playing games with her, encouraging her. Her friends in the band have constantly sent cards, affirming posters, visited, and called. And her music—she can still play saxophone and she can still march, just not at the same time. She’s adapted to that, as she has to so many obstacles.

So on this day before Christmas, she’s smiling, chatting and doing her best to enjoy the meal.

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When the doorbell rings, Gina asks Logan to answer it.

Standing before her are two cute little Elves dressed in green. “Merry Christmas,” they say, handing Logan a small wrapped box. She wants to ask them what is going on but they just run away.

How confusing, she thinks, as she goes inside.

“Open the box,” her mother says. Her mom has been acting kind of nervous all day and Logan wonders what’s going on. She tears off the paper and opens the little box. Inside is a silver whistle with a lanyard, like the ones they use in band. A note says, Merry Christmas, Logan. Please step out on the porch, and blow this whistle as loud as you can.

Her mom grins as Logan reluctantly steps back outside. She blows as hard as she can, the whistle loud as an alarm. She waits and waits. Then she hears one of the greatest sounds in the world: her Shawnee Mission East band family playing their hearts out. The music grows louder as her band marches up the hill and right into her yard. Logan smiles widely, so happy to see her friends, so moved by the music and the caring.

“As I listened to our parade songs and watched my friends come toward me, I felt very loved,” Logan says. The band performs a special concert for Logan. Friends, family members, teachers, and neighbors gather around to support her.

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After the concert, the drum major hands Logan a large envelope.

Her mom is right by her side, as always, encouraging her to see what’s inside. The crowd is silent as Logan pulls out two letters. One is from Ohio State University. She can’t believe it. Why are they writing her? How did they even know her address or that she admired them? Her mind is reeling and her hands shaking as she reads aloud:

Dear Logan,

My name is Kevin Leonardi, and I am the Communications Director for The Ohio State University Marching Band. We are very excited to be heading to Pasadena next week to perform at “The Granddaddy of Them All” — the Rose Bowl! We would be honored if you would join us as our special guest as part of public appearances in the area leading up to the game…..

Logan laughs as the enormity of the gift sinks in. She’s so overwhelmed she has to hand the second letter to her mom. Gina reads: On behalf of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, it is my sincere pleasure to welcome you to Pasadena, California, for “America’s New Year Celebration” – the 2019 Rose Parade and the 2019 Rose Bowl Game!

We are so excited that you and your family will be able to join us for this very special occasion.

I understand that you are quite an accomplished musician and love to play the saxophone in your high school band. I’ve also heard that you are a big fan of The Ohio State Marching Band. So, I know that you will have a blast meeting the band in southern California!

We are so honored to have you, your mother Gina and your brother Garret join us as our guests for New Year’s Day.

The letter is signed by the Executive Director and CEO of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.

Logan hugs her mom and basks in the love and caring of the scores of people, smiling, laughing, and reveling in this amazing gift.

•••

“These gifts from the Elves really sustained me,” Logan says.

Despite all that she’s endured, Logan tries to focus on the positive. Though she prefers to be private, she has learned that sharing her story can inspire and encourage others.

“But I don’t like being ‘the cancer kid,’” she says. “I just want to be Logan. I just want to be a regular teenager.”

Although the cancer has dramatically altered her life, she isn’t angry about having this disease. “I’d rather it be me than some other kids,” she says. “I think I can handle it better than some other people. My parents inspired that core of inner strength in me.”

Through all the challenges and obstacles, she’s found gifts and blessings.

“I’ve grown a lot closer to Mom and Garrett,” Logan says. “We try to do new things together and go on more trips. I’ve also become a lot more grateful for life. I try not to worry about the small things.”