While most kids try to earn gold stars for their work, Dawson Deschaine felt a little pride every time he earned a bead.
"The Beads of Courage program is these beads that [represent] every poke, every hospital stay, every bone marrow biopsy, every chemotherapy," said Breanna Deschaine, Dawson's mother.
Dawson was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2015 at just 6-years-old. The battle would last two-and-a-half years. It was all Dawson ever knew.
"He mostly knew nurses, doctors, family," said Jason Deschaine, Dawson's father. "He had a lot more adult conversations than kid ones."
Breanna said he was an old soul. He even drank a cup of coffee every morning (decaf, of course).
"They accidentally sent him coffee [instead of hot chocolate] to his room one day," said Breanna.
Dawson's mom said he was an old soul. After getting coffee instead of hot chocolate, that's what he drank every morning (decaf, of course). pic.twitter.com/eYx7Ed57XX— Frances Wang (@ABC10Frances) June 17, 2017
Dawson battled leukemia for 2-and-a half years. Smiled through it all. Chemo, stem cell transplanted, bone marrow biopsies... pic.twitter.com/NN5NoFSFLI— Frances Wang (@ABC10Frances) June 17, 2017
Now you know an infectious smile like Dawson's comes with some pretty funny stories.
Last August, Nevada County made Dawson an honorary firefighter. They called it 'Dawson Day' with a ceremony and all.
Sweet Dawson passed away this Sat. after battling leukemia. He was only 8 years old. Last yr, he became an honorary Nevada Co. firefighter. pic.twitter.com/RkVOY0WGhD— Frances Wang (@ABC10Frances) June 17, 2017
Dawson was given a badge, his own turnouts, and boots. He even got to respond to an injured biker.
"He kept telling the EMTs how to wrap the leg!" said Breanna.
And his firefighter card, he never took for granted.
"He was getting ready to go to clinic one day," said Jason. "He comes back running in the house saying 'I need my ID Card!'...'No no, I need it. Just in case mom gets pulled over, [I can say police officer,] I am with the fire department.
It's reminiscing and laughing about stories like this that keep his family strong and smiling even when it hurts.
"People always ask how we're doing. As you can tell we smile. Dawson would never let us cry in the room," said Breanna.
Dawson's community made sure his last months in this world was full of adventure. Sadly, he got too sick for his Make-A-Wish: to go to Hawaii and swim with dolphins.
Dawson had plenty of adventures his last 6 months. Sadly, he never got to swim with dolphins in Hawaii... it was his dream 😓. pic.twitter.com/UQeAqIwzW3— Frances Wang (@ABC10Frances) June 17, 2017
On June 10th at 6:05 AM, with his parents and his sister by his side, Dawson passed away.
Even up until his very last moment, he gave his family a thumbs up.
"He couldn't talk very much. Just the thumbs up that he was still good. He was Awesome Dawson," said Breanna, through tears. "It was his signature. No matter what...I told him 'It's OK Dawson. You fought the hardest battle and you won.'"
"You're not supposed to cry!" said Melody, Dawson's grandmother. "He's watching you."
And if Dawson was watching, what would they say?
"I would say thank you, for the opportunity...you pulled our community together and made our family so strong," said Melody. "We all love him very, very much. And miss him."
Breanna said she would read to him again from his favorite book 'Love You Forever.'
"His favorite saying from his favorite book: 'I love you forever. I like you for always. As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be," said Breanna.
Dawson's family hopes to continue his legacy by bringing the Beads of Courage program that got him through his darkest days into more hospitals.
Donations can be made on the Beads of Courage website, under Dawson's name.
And until they see Dawson again, the family says they'll live by this motto: 'Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.'
That is what Dawson would've wanted.