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Let's start with this. It is amazing how much goodness we humans can inflict on each other when we want, when we are faced with adversity and times are hard and the stakes are high.

This is what Wendy Single did a while back.

She works in the technology department of the Queensbury School District. Her boss is Matt Hladun. She found out that Matt and Tammy's 2-month-old baby boy had a rare form of aggressive cancer. The prognosis was not good.

She sent out an e-mail to everyone who worked at the school and urged everyone to join her in the school parking lot on a September Sunday.

"I just felt the need to do something," said Wendy.

At 5 p.m., the cars started pulling in off Aviation Road, one after another. People pulled out their lawn chairs and greeted people they hardly knew and met others they had never known. Twenty, 30, 40 until there were more than 50 gathered under a nice shade tree trying to sum up a positive vibe for a baby they had never met.

Near the end, they all stood in a circle and joined hands.

That circle was just the beginning. The word spread, the story grew and the circle got wider.

But first, we have to tell you how Matt and Tammy got to where they are now. How they were this ordinary little family, building a house, preparing to send 5-year-old Max to kindergarten and 2-year-old Ben to preschool while Tammy took care of their newborn, Will.

Then, on Sept. 12, the world caved in on them.

This is where you shake your fist and ask, "Why?"

Here is where you wonder at what point Matt or Tammy busted down the front door of their local church and demanded an audience with the guy in charge for a detailed explanation.

"People tell us that it happens for a reason," said Matt. "We're not so sure what the reason is yet."

Then you find yourself in C-714 at Albany Medical Center with baby Will conked out on his tummy in a blue onesie and Tammy fawning all over him.

They tell you the story of how this all started with a swollen leg and a trip to the emergency room. They tell you how no one mentioned the word. It was like some hospital code that Matt and Tammy had to figure out.

There was a mass in the baby's leg, a growth in his brain, but no one said the word.

Then Tammy found herself staring at the label on the doctor's white lab coat. She could only stare at the letters that spelled "oncology."

What followed over the past two months has been two brain surgeries, four MRIs and three rounds of chemotherapy. He is four months old now and he is still only 12 pounds.

Matt and Tammy found themselves in a fog in those early days, frightened to death one minute, overwhelmed by gloom the next.

Here's where the circle began to widen again, too.

Matt began writing updates on the Caring Bridge Web site so relatives and friends would know how Will was doing.

But the first entry didn't feel right. He had more to say. He had to let out his feelings, but he only felt comfortable writing to Will.

Here is Matt's first entry:

"I apologize right away, despite being a little more on the quiet side when speaking, I do tend to be long-winded when I write. I imagine you at 15, looking back at my words and thinking, "Geez dad, do I have to read all of this?"

That's the dream that Matt and Tammy hold onto on the best of days. The first days in September were too dark to even consider the possibility.

When Matt was asked to sign "do not resuscitate" forms, he was sure this was for sometime far down the road. But it wasn't. It was for that night.

"There are days where everything inside of you says 'Run away, run away!' It is not an option," said Matt.

They got through that night and countless others.

There are more than 60 entries on the Caring Bridge site. Matt has not missed many days, and he has not pulled many punches.

Tammy wrote this entry:

"Daddy felt too exhausted to write last night, and while I don't have the gift to express myself like Daddy, I felt it was my turn to write to you. You had another surgery on Friday to put the port in your chest. I hate seeing it there, but I know it allows the doctors and nurses to help you without having to poke at your little body. I am trying hard to be strong buddy, but seeing what the chemo is doing to your body is hard to watch. You and your Daddy are giving me more strength than you can imagine. Every time you open your eyes I can't help but smile at you despite the way my heart is breaking."

When they got to Albany, Tammy told them a crib would not do. She had to be able to hold Will, kiss his cheek. So she spent her days in the hospital bed next to Will. She refused to leave his side.

"I need physically to be here," she says.

Life slowed for Matt and Tammy. Each day was filled with life-and-death emergencies.

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"This is not a two-month ordeal," said Matt. "This is our life."

Then unexpected things began to happen. That circle that Wendy Single helped start in Queensbury led to fundraisers in South Glens Falls and Mechanicville, where Tammy and Matt used to teach, and in Stillwater. The good will began to multiply and spread, and this baby seemed to be changing the world for the better without uttering a word.

People began poring over Matt's entries on Caring Bridge. There have been more than 90,000 visits in the past two months. Cards and letters arrived from everywhere, including strangers in faraway countries. One wall of C-714 is covered with them.

People told Matt that people they knew, whom they had not spoken to in years, who simply did not get along, were coming together for them.

And maybe this was the best gift of all. Matt and Tammy overcame their grief and gave into their determination and love.

"Your mom and I decided tonight that we'll be sad for only a little while longer and then we're going to be strong," Matt wrote on Caring Bridge. "We know that everyone who loves, cares, and prays for you will need our strength. We also know that the fight for your life will also require every ounce of strength we have. As your doctor told us tonight, in a couple of weeks, you'll be able to tell us if it's a winnable fight and if it isn't, we're going to make all the right decisions to make sure we cherish every moment we have with you."

"We can be sad and he will still have cancer," says Tammy.

Matt looks at you with the biggest smile, looking like he doesn't have a care in the world.

"I just want to enjoy my son," he says.

Matt and Tammy had reason to be smiling earlier this week. The latest MRI showed nothing was left of the brain tumor.

"Sorry to put you out of business," Matt joked to the neurosurgeon.

It is good news, but not the end of the story. We won't have that for some time. There is still a mass in the leg, and if the chemo doesn't eradicate that, another round of chemo or surgery is an option.

Matt and Tammy still fear the results of each new MRI.

Not too long ago, 5-year-old Ben turned to Tammy and asked, "How do you get to heaven? Do you just walk out the door?"

Tammy lets the story hang in the air. And you wonder if what Matt and Tammy have now, the enjoyment of their little boy today and tomorrow, is their heaven until it's time for Will to walk out that door.

Next week, Matt and Tammy's families will come together for Thanksgiving. This year, it will be in a banquet hall at the hotel across the street from the hospital. They are hoping Will may be able to join in the celebration.

If not, Matt has already told Tammy that he will eat first, then take her place in the hospital room, take his little boy in his arms and drift off into a turkey-induced coma while watching football, and everything will be right with the world for at least another day.

Ken Tingley is editor of The Post-Star and may be reached via e-mail at To receive e-mail notification each time this column is published, sign up at


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