First off, I heard about what happened a couple of weeks ago at your brother Jedidiah’s birthday party. I heard about how you and a family member were sitting inside your house while your brothers and sister were outside with the other kids, playing. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you — a three-year-old kid, stuck inside the house because the tumors in his leg had impaired his ability to walk.
And you could actually hear the other kids — the ones who weren’t confined indoors by cancer — outside playing and having fun.
Then, when the pressure in your swollen leg got to be too much, as it often does, you screamed in pain. Everybody outside heard you, and your dad came running in and said, “What’s up, buddy? What do you need?”
And instead of crying about the pain, you made a simple request.
“I want to go outside.”
You hadn’t been outside in two weeks, and you decided that that was long enough. You weren’t going to let cancer keep you from being a kid. At least not on that day, your brother’s eighth birthday. So your dad took you outside.
When you got out into the yard, you said to your dad, “I want to shoot the hose!” So your dad got the garden hose for you, and after being stuck in the house for two weeks, you sat outside on your dad’s lap for a full 10 minutes, laughing, playing and spraying the other kids with water as they ran by. You’ve been through so much — brain surgery, chemo, radiation — but your cancer doesn’t define you. You’re still a three-year-old, and your instincts are to go outside and just play and be a normal kid.
That’s a kind of strength that I can’t even imagine.
Maybe you wanted to shoot the hose to pretend you were a firefighter, like your dad. Maybe you wanted to pretend you were coming to somebody’s rescue. Maybe you wanted to pretend you were a hero.
Well let me tell you, Trucker. You don’t have to pretend.
Because you are a hero.
The Dukes Family
I remember when I first learned about you and your family. I was back home in Maui about two years ago, when my mom said to me, “Hey, you wanna buy a T-shirt for this fundraiser?”
“Sure.” I said. “What’s it for?”
She said it was to raise money to help a young kid battling Stage IV neuroblastoma. I didn’t know at the time that that was an aggressive form of cancer that attacks the nervous system, or that, when you were diagnosed at 19 months, the doctors had given you just a 30% chance of living to the age of five. All I knew was that my mom said one of the guys I used to play baseball with was now a firefighter, and that the fundraiser was for one of his coworker’s sons. So I bought the T-shirt.
Then my wife, Renee — being the kind of woman she is — started doing some research. She went on the Team Trucker Facebook page and started following. And the more she and I learned about you, your family and your battle, the more we wanted to be a part of your fight.
But I think what really drew us to you and your family was our own three-year-old son, Kainoah.
The best way I can explain it is to tell you about something that happened on one of our family trips back to Maui. Renee and I took our kids to your dad’s firehouse to see him and your brothers and sister. You were in New York at the time getting treatment.
While we were there, I watched as Kainoah, who was two at the time, climbed onto a fire truck. He played with the fire hose, pretending to put out fires. He made a wailing noise, mimicking the sound of the truck’s siren.
And as I watched him, I said to myself, He’s just a little boy … just like Trucker.
It’s the same thought I had when I first learned about all the things you and your family had endured. I imagined that instead of you, it was my own son who was suffering, and I imagined Renee and I caring for him. It was heartbreaking. But that pain your parents have felt was something I couldn’t even wrap my head around.
You remember the trips you took to New York City? The hospitals in Hawaii are good, but the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York is world class. So while your dad and a family friend, Erin McFarland, would stay back in Maui to work and look after the other kids, you and your mom would take the 11-hour flight to New York so you could get the best care possible.
Now, I don’t know if you know this — or if your young mind can even understand it — but every time you went to New York, your dad had to say goodbye to you, not knowing if that would be the last time he would see ever you. Every time, he had to treat it as if it was his last goodbye to his son.
When I heard about that, I put myself in his position. If I had to say goodbye to Kainoah, not knowing if I would ever see him again, that would be agonizing. It would be absolute torture.
And knowing the randomness of cancer, I understood that it could have just as easily been my own son flying to New York for treatments, and my wife and I could have been the parents who were afraid that our next goodbye could be our last.
The Dukes Family
Now, I’m going to talk about your parents a little more in a minute, because they are two of the most amazing people I have ever met. But first, I want to tell you why I’m writing to you today.
I’m writing because I want you to understand the impact you’ve had.
It’s difficult because you’re only three years old, and I don’t know if your young mind can truly understand how many lives you’ve touched — or in what way.
But I’m going to try.
You know how in Hawaii, when you want to greet somebody, you put your thumb and pinky out and give your wrist a couple of quick twists? People on the mainland understand it as meaning “hang loose.” In Hawaii, we call it shaka. You only know the term shaka if you’re from or have been to Hawaii. It’s a common gesture Hawaiians use to say hello and goodbye, thank you and you’re welcome, or to say you’re doing well and wish others well.
So when your friends and family were trying to think of ways to raise awareness for pediatric cancer by highlighting you, they decided — knowing how much you love showing shaka — that that should be the symbol of the #TruckerToughChallenge. So people would show their shaka and make their tough face to show strength and toughness in support of you and your ongoing battle — to let you and your family know that you’re not fighting alone.
When my wife, Renee, heard about this, she thought about the network of players and their wives that we’ve gotten to know throughout my years in Major League Baseball. She figured, Why not see if we could get some players in on the challenge
And the response was incredible.
Now, I know that names like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Buster Posey probably don’t mean anything to you, but let me tell you, Trucker … these are some of the best baseball players on the planet, and they are so influential. They have huge followings. And they were moved enough by your story to participate in the challenge and let their fans know that they are supporting you and your family in your fight.
Your story is reaching millions upon millions of people all over the world.
That’s really something special.
I guess that’s what I want to tell you. The impact you’ve had — through your strength and your courage — has been far-reaching. Your parents even organized a day of prayer for you, and hundreds of thousands of people shared their thoughts and prayers on Facebook. You’ve impacted so many people that I’ve honestly lost count.
But let me tell you about something a little closer to home. Let me tell you how you and your family have impacted me.
And to do that, I have to tell you another story.
Just a few months ago, when Renee and I were learning about the pain-filled, sleepless nights you had been having, we decided to treat you to a little staycation at the Four Seasons in Maui. You remember? Renee and I were there with your whole family. We just wanted you to be able to spend some time — as long as your body would let you — out at the pool playing with your brothers and sister and enjoying your family.
And I remember I was sitting by the pool when I heard your scream — I’ve since been told it was just like the one you let out when you were sitting inside alone at your brother’s birthday party. It was just a horrible, high-pitched scream.
“Aaah! My leg!”
I immediately got scared, like, Oh, my God! What do we do?
Then I saw your mom and dad go over to you, almost calmly, and simply say, “Hey buddy, what’s wrong?”
That was when it really hit me: This wasn’t scary for them anymore. This wasn’t unusual. This was their reality. This was their life. The pain, the screaming … it was just normal.
That was a heartbreaking realization.
The screaming didn’t stop, either. Every two minutes or so, I’d hear it again, and I would just try to tune it out. I couldn’t bear it. I was thinking, How can this happen to an innocent three-year-old kid?
It just felt so unfair.
It still does.
The Dukes Family
And that’s what brings me to your parents, Shauna and Joshua.
I guess all I can really say is … I can see where you get your strength from, Trucker. I’m convinced that besides you, there are no two stronger people on the planet than your parents.
I mean, look at your dad. His job every day as a firefighter is to save people, and the one person on earth he wishes he could save more than anybody else — you — he can’t. I can’t imagine how helpless of a feeling that must be.
But you know what? He never shows it.
In fact, I think the only time I’ve heard of your dad not being up to the challenge throughout your battle was when your family first started the #TruckerToughChallenge. Your family thought your dad should be the first to show shaka and make the tough face. But when they asked him, he said he didn’t think he could do it. “I’m just not feeling very tough right now,” he said.
I don’t blame him.
And your dad is one tough guy. I mean, he’s a firefighter. He’s built tough, physically and mentally. And throughout everything — those goodbyes before the flights to New York, the surgeries, the screaming and the sleepless nights — he’s been tougher than he knows.
He didn’t have to put his tough face on just for the #TruckerToughChallenge.
He’s been wearing it since Day One.
And just a couple of days ago, your dad finally did do the challenge. I guess he figured that if you were tough enough to fight through all you’ve had to face, he could find the strength to do something he found difficult, too.
Honestly I haven’t felt very tough lately. In fact the wind feels like it’s been stolen from my sails. This battle we have been in is draining and exhausting! Then I think about Trucker. Every day, time and time again, no matter what gets thrown at him gets back up and fights. He perseveres through the trials so…….. This week he has motivated me to get back in the gym, to try and eat better ( when all I want is comfort food and whiskey ) and to do what is important like spending time with God and family. So I’m doing the #Truckertoughchallenge for my son and because of my son! I’m doing the #TruckerToughChallenge to support three-year-old Trucker Dukes who is fighting cancer. I challenge @seahawks @jessedolphin @djhectic1 Jeremy and @alisondukes @nathanchainsaw @paiacodes @kazumasurfboards Dave @jill_yarbrough @allblacks @everlast And Mr Diehard BruceWillis to show off your tough face. #TruckerTough #TeamTrucker Post your toughest face and throw in a “shaka” if you’d like, just like Trucker Boy!
It’s just another example of how you’ve made others around you stronger, just by being strong yourself.
And your mom … she’s been tough just like your dad. She’s had to make a lot of difficult decisions, Trucker.
Your dad doesn’t have to worry anymore about those painful goodbyes, because your parents have decided that they don’t want to waste valuable time flying you to and from New York for treatments that haven’t been working. They’ve opted to stop treatment and focus on your quality of life.
That doesn’t mean they’ve given up. Believe me … they will never give up on you. Your mom is still consulting with doctors regularly and treating you with natural medicine and alternative methods — things that are not as toxic as the chemo and radiation you’ve had to suffer through.
She, just like your father, still has faith.
She still believes in miracles.
The Dukes Family
Cancer can take so much. It has taken your ability to live the sort of normal life that every child deserves to live. It has taken your ability to walk. It has taken so much from you and your family that you will never be able to get back.
But like your mom always says: Love beats cancer, Trucker. Even if the time comes that cancer takes you from this earth, that won’t mean that cancer has won.
Because love always wins. And we’ll always remember the love we have for you, and the love you have for life. That will live on.
And finally, let me tell you how you and your family have impacted me.
First of all, the kind of strength you have … I’m a professional athlete, Trucker. I’ve met some of the toughest, strongest guys on earth. And I don’t wish, even for a moment, that I was like them.
But I’ve seen the strength you’ve shown throughout your battle, and I can honestly say that I wish I was more like you. I can only dream of having the sort of courage I’ve seen you show since you came into my life.
That’s why you are my hero.
And your family is no different. Ever since I met them, when something small goes wrong in my life — something I would normally get upset about — I think about you and your parents. I think about how, even in the face of a seemingly impossible situation, you guys live every day to the fullest. And then I forget about whatever trivial problems I have. I think about what’s really important, and then I go hug my wife and kiss my kids.
I guess that’s why you have had the impact you’ve had. You remind people of what’s important.
Some people live to be 100 years old, and they could only dream about impacting as many lives as you have in your three short years on this earth. You’ve changed a lot of lives, Trucker. Mine among them.
I know you’re still fighting, and that you’re in hospice care at home right now. A lot of people hear the word hospice and they think, That’s it. That’s the end. But I don’t believe that one bit. I’ve seen you get close to the end and then come back fighting too many times to ever believe it’s over before it’s really over.
I don’t know when your last day will come. But I know that if it does come sooner than it should, it won’t be the end of Trucker Dukes. You’ve touched too many people.
Every time I talk to your parents, they thank me. They thank me for the interviews I’ve been doing with various media outlets to spread awareness, and for getting my fellow baseball players involved.
But honestly, it’s me who should be thanking them.
And I should be thanking you, too.
So thank you, Trucker. Thank you for making me a better father, a better husband and a better person. You’ve taught me and so many others how to live and love the right way. You’ve taught us about patience and prayer. You’ve reminded people what family is all about. And whether you’re here with us or not, I promise to always strive to show the same kind of courage and strength you have shown during your short life. No matter what happens, you will always be alive inside me, inside your parents and inside everybody who has been fortunate enough to have been touched by your story.
We love you, buddy.
Keep on Trucking.
To learn more about Trucker and his ongoing battle, please visit www.TeamTrucker.org, follow Team Trucker on Facebook and show your support by posting with the hashtags #Lovebeatscancer and #Morethanfour.