Sahara Aldridge was more than a story

Sunday, November 11, 2007

As young, aspiring reporters, we're told over and over: Don't get too close to the people you're reporting on. It's a basic principle, meant to keep us objective, or as much as is humanly possible.

With the Aldridge family -- Shannon, Amy and Sahara -- that wasn't possible. Any human being with a heart and soul would have to feel for this family, to integrate them into one's own world. I couldn't keep up my shield of impenetrable separation.

When I heard Sahara had died, I cried.

Even though I really didn't know her that well, I felt that somehow I did. And Shannon has told me she was quite fond of me. I'm lucky that such a lovely, special, spiritually powerful little girl would think that I, a near-total stranger and nosy news reporter, am all right.

But then again, I've been told she loved everybody.

It's sort of strange how I was put on the story of Sahara Aldridge. Somehow the word got to my bosses that a little girl in Cape Gir-ardeau had been diagnosed with some pretty mean cancer, and Rick Springfield had taken notice due to an established friendship with the family.

Since I'm the entertainment guy and Rick Springfield was involved, the story went to me.

That first story I wrote on Sahara, Shannon and Amy was done via telephone, while they were away at Houston seeking treatment. It was sort of strange to be talking about such serious matters over the phone, but the family was gracious in allowing this reporter into their lives. Their optimism was unwavering, at least on the outside.

More stories would follow. I met the family in person. I got to know them a little, especially Shannon who, like me, loves rock 'n' roll and sports. I think they started to trust me somewhat.

I tried not to pry too far into their lives, tried to give them some space, but still I had to report the story. Some things they shared with me, some they didn't.

Shannon, Amy and Sahara did make a sacrifice in allowing part of Sahara's story to play out in front of the public. But they did so for a reason, I think. The Aldridges knew Sahara wasn't the only child in the world afflicted by this terrible disease of cancer.

I think they made the sacrifice because they knew how much Sahara's fight could inspire others, and maybe shed some light on the medical system and how we fight cancer. In the process, their daughter became a symbol of hope and strength in the lives of many, many people.

I'm just honored to be one of them. I learned a lot from Sahara. And I'm glad I let my heart allow me to get a little too close this time.

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