Clay Derderian loves the water. His bedroom, a palette of blues and greens, is a refreshingly subtle nod to all things nautical: There’s a fat stuffed octopus, a monkey’s fist knot lamp made of jute and a photo of Clay wearing a snorkeling mask and a faded blue T-shirt with a swordfish.
The photo is from his trip to the Florida Keys last year. It was sponsored by the Make a Wish Foundation; Clay, who has brain cancer, wanted to go snorkeling.
To commemorate the trip, his mother, Mary, bought an 8-by-5-foot map of the Gulf of Mexico. It matches a dresser that Clay’s dad, James, decoupaged with maps he found sticking out of a neighbor’s trash bin.
With 4,160 votes, Clay’s Arlington bedroom was the readers’ choice winner for this year’s Kid’s Room Contest.
“This was the first bit of good news we’ve had in months,” Mary said.
These days, water has particular significance for Clay, who, as of six weeks ago, can no longer see. Activities such as running and biking are a bit too dangerous, but swimming is special because he can feel it, she said.
When Clay was 3, doctors found a brain tumor that had bled. His parents remember feeling relieved when they learned that it was slow-growing. That meant they had time. “There was so much we didn’t know,” Mary said.
Clay, now 6, has undergone three sessions of chemotherapy. Slow-growing cancers come with their own hurdles, Mary said, noting that because research is largely devoted to fast-growing tumors, treatments for cases like Clay’s are often highly experimental.
In December, he began to lose his vision. Then, while playing at the pool this summer, he grabbed his head and told his mom everything had gone black. The tumor had bled again, this time into his optic nerves. Mary said the doctors told her they would be surprised if his vision returned.
“The only thing to do from here is try different methods and see what works,” she said. “We’ve moved beyond chemo at this point.”
Clay’s loss of sight has resulted in a twist to his room’s decor. Now, he has an alarm clock he can tap to hear the time. There’s also a line of string that connects his bed to his bathroom so he can get there when Mom and Dad are sleeping. He calls this his “zipline.” Last week, Mary hung nautical flags and beadlike knots from the string to help Clay find his way.
With the exception of a blue Maine Cottage dresser, most of the room’s furniture is from Ikea. Mary’s one mistake may have been buying Serena and Lily sheets for the beds, she said. When Clay first lost his sight, their 10-year-old daughter, Grace, slept in his room to keep an eye on him. Weeks later, she was still asking to spend the night there.
“I finally asked her what the deal was, and she said, ‘His sheets are much softer than mine!’ ” Mary said. “So I’ve cursed myself. She’ll never sleep on cheap sheets again.”
The Derderians will continue to make adjustments to Clay’s room as time goes by. Mary is thinking about ways to incorporate sound and texture into the decor, such as the voice box a friend brought over on a play date a few weeks ago. It’s like an audio card; Clay hits a button and hears a recording from his friend thanking him for their friendship.
“I don’t know if there is something about kids who have to go through things like this, but he has an incredible spirit,” Mary said. “He just rolls with everything that happens to him. He’s in school for half-days, learning to walk with a cane and making the best of it. He’s an amazing child.”
There will be a golf fundraiser for Clay on Friday, Nov. 2, at Providence Golf Club in Richmond. For more information, visit First Giving and search for “Clay Derderian.”