Phil Reedy likes to make soft-shell tacos for his mother, and when he's feeling really good, he'll prepare a nice spaghetti dinner.
Those are just some of the things Phil does to thank Norma Reedy for helping him through the year, although the fact that he is alive is thanks enough for her.
Norma Reedy came home from a church dinner last January and found her 14-year-old son suffering from a stomachache. She thought he had the flu and, like any mother, hoped that her child would recover within a few days.
But Phil did not. He had leukemia.
"Just like that. Boom," recalled Reedy, a single parent who works as a legal secretary in Washington. "Our world was turned upside down."
A few days after the diagnosis, Phil began eight weeks of chemotherapy. The intensive treatment put his disease into remission, but also killed his body's ability to produce white blood cells.
He would require a bone marrow transplant.
"The words I would use to describe what happened are 'scary,' 'agonizing' and 'painful,' " Phil said. "What was going through my head was, 'Am I going to make it? Or am I not?' "
"To survive all of that took a lot of will and determination," said Ralph Quinones, director of bone marrow transplants at Children's Hospital. "Phil went through it and is now without evidence of leukemia."
With the good news, every day is cause for giving thanks at the Reedy home. It's not just that Phil has survived a deadly disease; the changes in his character brought on by this brush with death also have warmed his mother's heart.
"I feel like I have become a more compassionate person," said Phil, an eighth-grader at Rippon Middle School in Woodbridge. "Although I have suffered, I have seen other people suffer even more. I don't think I will ever be able to ignore the pain of another human being."
Among those who showed compassion toward him was Malorie Ivasco, 2, who also had been hospitalized. Despite her own discomfort, she would stand in the doorway to Phil's room, blowing kisses and offering bandages with pictures of Mickey Mouse printed on them.
"During my last days in the hospital, I pretty much stayed under my blankets with the lights out, like a sick little turtle," Phil said. "But I could still hear Malorie saying, 'I wuv you.' It made me feel real special."
Throughout the ordeal, Norma Reedy depended upon her church, Christ Chapel Church Assemblies of God, whose members prayed for her and raised money to pay for all expenses not covered by insurance. They arranged for Dan Reedy, Phil's 21-year-old brother, to fly to Washington from Atlanta. Dan had quit his job at a pizza store and withdrew from mechanics school to donate bone marrow to Phil.
Church members also paid the $10-a-night donation that allowed Norma Reedy to stay at the Ronald McDonald House for parents of sick children, in Northeast Washington, so she wouldn't have to make the 1 1/2-hour round trip from the Reedy home in Dumfries.
When told that Phil required clean clothes each day, they even pitched in to help her with the wash.
" 'In everything give thanks, for this is God's will,' " Norma Reedy said, recalling a favorite passage from the Bible. "I'd say, 'Okay, God, help me to find something thankful about leukemia.' "
In the end, more was revealed.
"Phil still gets greeting cards from people he met in the hospital, friends for life," his mother said. "The bond between the parents of sick children is special too. Not long ago, Malorie's mother, Nancy, and I shed tears for someone we'd met whose child had died. What we have in common is being stretched beyond our limits and still managing to hang on."
Restrictions on Phil's lifestyle remain in effect until his immune system gets stronger. He must wear a mask to prevent infections during visits to the hospital for checkups. He can't eat pepper, blue cheese or shellfish -- and he's not supposed to handle flowers, because "I could get sick from those little hairy things on them."
Nevertheless, when his mother returned home from work one day last month, Phil raced into his closet and pulled out a potted mum. With head hung in mock shame, he presented it to her along with a birthday card.
"I kind of broke the rules," said the teenager.
"My eyes teared up before I could scold him," Reedy recalled. "All I could say was, 'Thank you.' "