Selah: More Than the Music
By Heidi Krumenauer
CBNmusic Guest Writer
Josh Holm is a lucky kid if you look at in the sense that he has family, friends and even a popular Christian music group loving him every day. But under all that love and all their prayers, 11-year-old Josh has been dealt some tough cards. There’s nothing lucky about being one of only 150 known cases of a very aggressive and rare form of liver cancer (Undifferentiated Embryonal Primitive Sarcoma), with a life expectancy of two months. Diagnosed the end of January, Josh’s aunt, Rebecca LaCount, says, “It’s an absolute miracle that he’s still with us!”
One month after his diagnosis, Josh’s tumor had grown to nearly 40 pounds. His young body had ballooned to 168 pounds, gaining 65 percent of his body weight in only three weeks -- 11 pounds in one day from only IV fluids. Doctors told the family there was nothing more they could do. They suggested the family turn off his ventilator and prepare to say good-bye. Their only other option was a risky surgery that would offer Josh a mere 5 percent chance of survival.
According to Josh’s father, Pete Holm, the family prayed about whether they should consider surgery as an option. “At one point I said, ‘I feel like we need to lay him on the altar, like Abraham did with his son, 'If you want him, Lord, he’s yours; if not, we know you have a huge plan for him.’” So they opted for the surgery where doctors removed nearly 24 pounds of the deadly tumor.
Surprising, Josh survived the surgery and he continues to shock his doctors as he has surpassed the usual two-month death sentence. "He's doing things nobody expected he'd be able to do," Pete says. "He's bound and determined that no matter what, he's going to beat this."
A Long and Winding Road
Josh’s parents, Pete and Darla, have traveled tirelessly on the four-hour route with nine-year-old brother, Jamie, from their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin to the Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee. For more than 68 days, Josh was a full-time patient at the hospital (including 17 days in ICU and 12 days on life support), but since that time he’s made weekly return trips to the Children’s Hospital for chemotherapy. A couple days at the hospital and then a few days at home. And the next week, it’s a few more days at the hospital. Shuttling back and forth for chemo treatments has become an exhausting routine, and often one that has become quite long. When the chemo doesn’t set well in Josh’s body, he becomes ill on the road, turning the four-hour drive into a trip that can last as long as nine hours!
Unfortunately, that routine won’t be ending anytime soon. Pete says they’re not sure what the future holds, but they are planning for 18 months of chemo and then possibly a resection of what’s left of the tumor after that. At this point, doctors are not updating Josh’s prognosis, but they remain “cautiously optimistic.”
Optimistic, yes, but still shocked, says Pete. In a recent conversation with the resident oncologist, they discussed Josh’s amazing recovery. Pete told him how Josh had taken his walker and literally started running across soccer field for about 30 feet. “I told the doctor, ‘I think Josh thinks he’s invincible.’ He said, ‘Don’t argue with him…I think he’s invincible, too.’” That was the same doctor who just a few months ago was telling the family to let go because Josh wouldn’t make it out of the hospital.
While Josh's doctors are astonished that he's survived this long, they acknowledge that Josh is not out of the woods and the possibility of death is still a very real possibility. The Holm family understands that, but they also understand the odds he’s beaten so far. They are thankful to a team of skilled physicians, modern medicine, family, friends, and steadfast faith in God.
“I would say I’ve always believed, and now I know that anything’s possible,” says Pete. “It’s hard to say this situation has changed my faith, because I’ve always believed it’s in God’s hands. He has a plan for you, and I know that. This has taken me to the point that I’m willing to tell anyone about it, though. It has taken my fear out of telling people that God is good…I have such a desire now to share that news.”
And Josh has stayed true to his faith, too, during this difficult time. “Josh’s belief and faith in God has grown a lot,” Pete says. “Josh tells us, ‘I know God’s got something good for me, or He wouldn’t put me through this.’”
One Day at a Time
With endless trips to the hospital and routine chemo treatments, Josh is still thinking and acting like a normal pre-teen boy. Hanging out with his friends is by far Josh’ greatest passion. He’s started collecting things, too – frogs, for one. In fact, frogs have become Josh’s logo, of sorts. The acronym, F.R.O.G. (fully rely on God) is now the symbol of his family. And more than anything, Josh wants to go swimming again. Within a couple weeks, that will happen, says Pete. And after that, it’s one day at a time.
Josh’s New Friends -- Selah
Selah’s female vocalist, Amy Perry, became friends with Josh’s aunt, Rebecca LaCount, about a year ago. Over the year, they’ve grown so close that when Rebecca started to organize a benefit for the Holm family in Madison, Wisconsin, she called on her new friend to see if Selah could help in any way. Her timing was, well, it was God’s perfect timing. Amy was in Nashville attending the funeral for Todd Smith’s (Selah’s male vocalist) daughter, Audrey.
Audrey was born on April 7, but passed away two hours later. Being born almost eight weeks premature, Audrey’s tiny lungs were not fully developed. Todd and his wife, Angie, had only spent a short time with Audrey before she peacefully passed away. It was a tough time for their family, and Amy told Rebecca she’d mention it to the guys in the group, but with the timing of a loss of a child, she wasn’t sure her companions would be in a place to do a benefit for someone else.
Amy actually ran the idea of Josh’s May 30th benefit by Todd and Angie, and it didn’t take but a second for Angie to agree that Selah needed to help. “This mother is going through something much worse than what I just went through. I think you should do it, honey,” Angie told her husband, Todd. It wasn’t long before Todd and Allen Hall, the third vocalist in the Selah trio, took it one step further by donating all the proceeds from the merchandise sales from the evening of the benefit to Josh.
Turning Tragedy into Hope
As the trio has prepared for this very special pro bono concert, they have been thoughtfully planning out their musical set, making sure that the night feels hopeful and that Josh feels loved. And with a man on stage who has just lost his own child, the night will have a very special message from Todd Smith.
“Todd said he wanted to open up about what it feels like for a father to lose a child,” Amy says. “For a man to have lost his child, it means so much more to him now. He knows what it feels like. It’s a pretty special moment when he shares that in concert.
"When he sang his version of “I Surrender All” at a concert in Texas recently, he talked about Audrey. It was a very touching moment where you heard a man who really wanted his baby to be alive and, at the same time, he can totally surrender to God’s will. It’s a sad, but beautiful testimony. I know that’s one of the major reasons he wants to do this benefit, so he can share his heart with others. No one knows the pain that a dad is going through better than another dad, so we’re really excited to be doing this.”
Amy adds that May 31st was Angie’s due date, so the timing of the concert on that day will, most likely, be difficult for their family. However, she adds that being able to help another child in need will be therapeutic for them.
As Amy has had the opportunity to share in the death of her friends’ newborn and now share in Josh’s struggle with cancer, she offers this hope to others who are struggling. “I know this is going to sound really simple, but Jesus is still the same. When Angie found out that Audrey might die, she just kept saying, ‘Jesus is still the same.’ I know when we go through trials and hear a child is going to die, it’s hard to really grasp it and understand God’s will, but we have to remember that He’s the same as yesterday, today, and He’ll be the same tomorrow. We have to grasp on to the fact that He’ll love us the same tomorrow, and no matter what pain we feel, He’s the one thing that will never change. He will be our complete rock. I know it sounds simple, but it’s so true.”
To learn more about Selah’s benefit concert, read a gripping account of Josh’s struggle with this rare cancer, or help the Holm family, go to www.frog4life.com.
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