McPherson resident Kaiden Schroeder died on Friday after an eight-year battle with leukemia.
The 12-year-old received a hero's welcome home Friday night as vehicles from the McPherson Fire Department escorted his body to Glidden-Ediger Funeral Home.
"His courage and character was an example to all of us," said McPherson Fire Chief Jeff Deal on a Facebook post informing the community.
He has left an indelible mark on this department, and his presence is woven permanently into the fabric of our culture.
"We are truly saddened by his passing, but he has and always will be our hero. Rest peacefully, Firefighter 1."
The news devastated the thousands following Kaiden's journey of remissions and relapses since his cancer diagnosis at age 4. Diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in May 2009, Kaiden began what was expected to be a little more than two years of treatment. But he suffered a relapse after a little more than a year and again in November 2012, the day before his brother, Bryson, was born.
In 2013, Kaiden underwent a bone marrow transplant at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, where his little sister, Ashlyn, then 4, was the donor.
Over the next two years, Kaiden underwent another bone marrow transplant, was in and out of remission, and started a trial drug in hopes of destroying the leukemia cells. Through it all, he faced the cancer head-on and continued to go to school, play baseball and lead as normal a life as possible.
In July, Kaiden relapsed for the sixth time and started on low-dose chemotherapy while doctors tried to find another treatment.
Over the years, Chris and Jenny Schroeder have closely documented their son's progress on the Caring Bridges website.
For more than eight years, Jenny Schroeder wrote, Kaiden had fought "with every ounce of strength in his body," enduring more than any person should ever have to endure.
"He has only truly complained a handful of times when we throw chemo, radiation, more chemo, more radiation, more chemo, bone marrow transplant, modified T Cells, another bone marrow transplant, trial and investigational medicine after investigational medicine, and more chemo at him," she wrote. "Why his leukemia has not responded for the long term to these things is not fair."
"We have made the decision to stop that chemo," she wrote on Nov. 14. "We have NOT stopped treatment, we have started him back up on low-dose chemo pills, and we have brought Kaiden home....Our focus for his care has shifted. We have always been chasing the cure, and while we still hope the cure is somewhere out there to be found, we are now focused on the comfort...
"Our time with Kaiden is precious, and we want to spend as much of it at home, and doing things as a family..."
The McPherson community has rallied behind Kaiden since the beginning, holding fundraisers, posting encouraging signs around town and wearing T-shirts bearing his name. Two Fridays ago, the McPherson High School football team honored Kaiden during its sub-state playoff game. The players, wearing helmets marked with a "K," pushed Kaiden onto the field in a wheelchair as the team and fans cheered.