Carson Caskey wrapped his chubby fingers around a piece of pink chalk and scribbled on a blackboard.
Then the toddler hopped on his tricycle and took off riding.
Through his parents' living room.
"He's a regular 2-year-old just like other 2-year olds," Katie Caskey said. Except he has a cancer called leukemia.
"My wish for my son is to beat this horrible disease," Caskey said. "To be cured and have a normal life because his life is not normal right now."
Disease takes hold
More than six months ago, Carson's health started to decline.
"He started getting sick a lot," said Caskey, who graduated from Fort Mill High School before making her home with her husband Tyler on the outskirts of York County in Chester. "He'd get ear infections, but they weren't going away. They were resistant to antibiotics."
For nearly 10 days, Carson stopped eating so Katie Caskey forced liquids.
Then Carson turned pale and bruises showed on his legs, she said.
"It just all happened so quickly," Lori Schmidt of Fort Mill said of her grandson's symptoms.
And she never saw what was to be, she said.
With Tyler in Iraq doing civilian contract work, Katie made repeated trips to doctors to learn what was wrong with her son.
"I couldn't get any answers," she recalled. "His eyes were rolling back in his head. I was holding him, wondering what was wrong?"
Several tests later and a trip to Levine Children's Hospital, Caskey got her answer.
"I said, 'What's wrong with him?'" she recalled asking a doctor. "He said, 'Carson has leukemia.' I still get chills saying it.
"I thought the worse," she added. I blamed myself. I wondered if there was anything I could have done differently."
That was Dec. 31, 2008.
And her life hasn't been the same since.
"It's been hard to deal with," Steve Caskey said of his grandson's leukemia."He's a 2-year old that came down with a disease, but we don't know why these things happen. Only the good Lord does."
It took Tyler, also a Fort Mill High graduate, three days to came home from Iraq. The couple embraced one goal: getting Carson better. That started last January when Carson had four blood transfusions and endured about 16 chemotherapy treatments, Katie Caskey said.
"I would hold his hand and tell him everything was OK," she said.
But it wasn't.
"I wish I could take it away from him," Caskey said of the leukemia. "I wish I could take his place."
For now, Carson must undergo about three years of chemo treatment. Once a week, sometimes twice, the family travels to Levine, where Carson's blood is monitored and his chemo is administered.
"He has a 90 percent chance of not relapsing," Tyler Caskey said of his son. "He's low risk. They expect him to do well with the treatment and recover."
Unlike most chemo patients, Carson didn't lose his hair for months. Then in April, his hair started shedding.
"One day he had hair in his hand and he said, 'Carson hair falling out,' Katie Caskey recalled.
Tyler offered up a panacea.
"I shaved his head," Tyler said. "I shaved my head, too. We made a fun activity out of it."
Katie added, "Now, he walks around saying, 'Carson has no hair and daddy has no hair.'"
Almost on cue, Carson walked to Katie and said, "Mommy has hair."
For the moment.
Then reality ushered remembrance back.
"I didn't think it was right that he had it," Tyler said of the leukemia. "I don't understand why any child should have to go through cancer. But it is what it is."
Carson went into remission Feb. 1.
"The goal is to stay in remission," Katie said. "So far he has."
If the cancer makes a comeback, radiation treatment will dim Carson's smile and quiet his infectious laughter.
For the moment.
Back in Fort Mill, two sets of grandparents wait. And watch.
"You just take one day at a time," Steve Caskey said. "He's done real well. He's responded real well to the treatments, and we hope he keeps on responding to the treatments like he has."
And that yields hope, Lori Schmidt said.
"Each week that he doesn't relapse, that just gives you hope," she said. "The short term gives you a better outlook for the long term."
For now, Carson atop his tricycle pedals recovery's road.
Along the way, acceptance is born.
"I don't know that I will ever be at peace with my son having leukemia," Katie said. "It's our life, so I live it. I used to cry everyday. Now, I don't."
Want to help?
In January, Tyler Caskey lost his job as a civilian contractor in Iraq and the Caskey family is in danger of losing their home. If you'd like to help, donations can be made to an account established for Carson Caskey at any Founders Credit Union location.