‘A Day for Watson’: Full-day benefit planned to help Mississippi family as toddler fights cancer

Published 7:45 am Sunday, March 12, 2023

On Saturday, March 18, a full-day benefit will be held for the family of a three-year-old Natchez child fighting cancer for his life at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

On Jan. 21, Melissa Calhoun’s life turned upside down after she drove her 3-year-old son Watson to a Baton Rouge hospital. There, she found out he had a brain tumor. The family immediately went to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, to have the tumor removed.

“I took him to Baton Rouge thinking he was dehydrated and never got to go home,” Calhoun said.

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Watson was later diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancer that forms on the brain stem at the top of his spinal cord. Unfortunately, his fight didn’t end with the surgery.

“Cancer had spread throughout his brain and across his spinal cord, top to bottom,” she said.

Young Watson is now in week three of a six-week radiation and chemotherapy treatment plan.

He has also undergone more surgery to place a shunt in his brain to drain excess spinal fluid into his stomach, relieving Watson’s swelling and headaches.

The family now stays at the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis. In the meantime, Melissa has to continue taking care of her other son Ryland, age 9, and can’t work.

“It’s been overwhelming,” she said. “We have bills coming up that I still have to pay. … Watson has been through a lot in his three years and this has surpassed anything I’ve ever expected.”

Something else Calhoun didn’t expect — but is exceptionally grateful for — is the support she has received from friends and total strangers, she said.

“I have the most amazing friends. My cousin, TJ Bailey, started the benefit for Watson and it has been amazing, not just because of the support from friends and family but because of the community coming together to do everything for a stranger,” she said. “People have sent money, food drinks, clothes and cards. Churches have sent cards. Total strangers I don’t even know have sent stuff. I wish people knew how thankful I am.”

Bailey said he had a lot of time on his hands to think about ways to help his cousin during his long work commute from Mississippi to Texas. As a 25-year oilfield worker, Bailey has made friends across New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and beyond who support the cause.

“I knew she is going to need some help,” he said. “It hit me deep. I have five children altogether and one of them is two years old. If it were my kid, I know how I would feel.”

Beginning Friday, March 17, at CR’s on Highland Boulevard is a pool tournament where proceeds will benefit the Calhoun family, Bailey said. The following morning, “A Day for Watson” begins at Smoot’s Grocery. Registration for a motorcycle Poker Run to begin and end at Smoots starts at 8 a.m. Kickstands go up at 10 a.m. followed by a full day of activities for children and families including live music, jambalaya plates, cornhole tournaments, laser tag, a petting zoo, face painting, live and silent auctions, a gun raffle and — if weather permits — a dunking booth.

“I’ll be getting in a dunking booth, but not if it’s 40 or 50 degrees outside,” Bailey said.

At the same time, Bailey’s friends in Carlsbad, New Mexico, will be joining the benefit for Watson there with a roping event that will be live-streamed for those in Natchez and the benefactors in Memphis to watch.

Motorcyclists Bill Whatley and David Marchbanks have helped him organize the Poker Run, Corey Miller donated guns to raffle off and many others have contributed.  Baliey’s niece, Beth Blackmon, helped organize and promote the event.

“We’ve had an outpouring of community support brought into this,” Blackmon said. “We’re expecting 200 to 250 bikers in the Poker Run alone, so we’ll have to let them ride in stages to keep traffic down. … We also have a slew of bands coming to play at Smoot’s throughout the day, and all of them donating their time to do it.”

Donations can also be made at Delta Bank to “Melissa Calhoun Special Account.” Contact Blackmon at 601-493-3740 for more information.