When mom Colleen Welsh had cancer, Percy Jackson leapt off author Rick Riordan's pages and gave her son hope.

By Colleen Welsh
Courtesy of Colleen Welsh

Dear Mr. Riordan,

Your Percy Jackson series saved my son Arthur’s childhood at the bleakest time in our lives. He’s always had an insatiable appetite for stories that take him to unknown worlds, where little people discover their secret powers. When he was 5, I agreed to read him J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I cringed at the gore, but he was dazzled. Each night he begged me to read more.

During his first-grade year, I became very ill with a bone-marrow cancer. It began with a pain here and there, then a broken rib, then three. I was too fragile for Arthur to hug me too tightly.

In the midst of this, he gained an incredible power of his own: He learned how to read—not just for the work of school, but for the adventure. He wanted Harry Potter, Greek and Norse mythology, anything with a magical beast and a sword-wielding boy on the cover. These books seemed too grown-up for my little boy. I’d skim ahead of him, believing that if I couldn’t protect him from my illness, I could protect him from the heart-crushing death of a hero.

Percy Jackson, your renegade demigod, beckoned. I was wary of this character. His behavior had landed him at a boarding school for misfit children. I didn’t want my 7-year-old to see a world where kids were considered a burden and sent away “for their own good.” He hounded me almost daily to read The Lightning Thief. I told him, “You have to wait,” thinking that he wasn’t ready. “What about Superfudge?”

Meanwhile, I was fighting the cancer and trying to take care of Arthur and his younger brother. It hurt to breathe, and one Friday my legs buckled and I slid to the floor.

An MRI found my first two vertebrae had been eaten away by the cancer and could no longer support the weight of my head. On Monday, I’d have surgery to fuse my neck bones to my skull with plates, rods, and pins to avoid more damage to my spinal cord.

My husband and I left the hospital to prepare, and we wandered into a bookstore on the way home. I wanted to buy gifts for my boys that might keep their mind off the decline they were watching in their mother. There on the shelf was The Lightning Thief—the book that Arthur had begged for—and I bought it for him.

Over the weekend, I read the beginning aloud to Arthur. Percy learns that his father is the Greek god Poseidon, and he must outrun a monster to join his fellow demigods. In the chase to Camp Half-Blood, the Minotaur crunches Percy’s mortal mother into a golden puff of light.

That moment in the story was exactly what I had feared most. Would he experience Percy’s grief as his own? But then I realized that I had to let Arthur read about this boy who loses his mother and must go on—because if Percy did it, then maybe he would believe that he could too. Percy’s story did not crush Arthur’s heart, but his heart might have been crushed if he hadn’t had your story to empower him.

Courtesy of Colleen Welsh

He devoured the rest of The Lightning Thief by himself and then the other books in the series. He rereads them and waits for you to pen the next epic. Now 9, he still battles monsters in the mirror, and I am still here. My disease is in check, but like Gaea in your later volumes, it sleeps and waits for its chance to rise up. When it does, we’ll be ready to fight again.

Mr. Riordan, your books let my son enter a world of war for justice when his real life was haunted with a terrifying monster. They let him remain a child and dive into the sea of fantasy, so that he could face fear when he was truly ready. Your books nurtured his belief in the triumphs of heroes.

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Colleen Welsh is a writer and mother of two who lives in NYC.


Be the first to comment!