Rising 50 stories high, Devon Energy Center represents a lot of things to a lot of people. To civic leaders, it's a chance to portray the city as a thriving, growing modern metropolis. For real estate investors, it's a potential bonanza on the west fringe of downtown. And for one 10-year-old boy battling cancer, it's a representation of a future he yearns to experience first hand — but knows he might not get that chance.
Xander Moore knows time may be short. He's battled neuroblastoma since he was 2 years old. Doctors told his parents early on patients with such a diagnosis faced a discouraging 30 percent chance of surviving beyond five years.
The five years came and went. To Xander, the cancer he continues to battle is just another challenge to be overcome. He doesn't dwell on it, but he's not oblivious to the reality that governs his future.
The only hint of Xander's ailment is when his smile is interrupted by the inevitable yawn that hits him all too often as he struggles to keep his strength.
It's inspiring just to be in Xander's presence. He has spent his life living it to the fullest, playing baseball, going to school, and enjoying regular excursions downtown with his grandfather, Rick Brown.
Much like Charlie Bucket and his Grandpa Joe visiting Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, Xander and grandfather (who he calls “G”) are excited tourists on their downtown visits. They relish walking along the Bricktown Canal, or strolling through the Myriad Gardens. They have great fun at Bass Pro Shops, and they love imagining themselves as bankers inside the imposing Great Banking Hall at First National Center.
For the past three years, the highlight of each trip was keeping track of Devon's spiraling tower. The closest look the pair could get was over a fence surrounding the job site. The tower was frequently a bond between the two. In a moment of childhood curiosity, Xander did a Google search once to see which was taller — Devon Tower or the Eiffel Tower? (Eiffel Tower is 100 feet higher).
The tower also was a much needed distraction on each drive up to the Jimmy Everest Center at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center. And it was a beacon of hope for Xander and his mother, Ricki Lea, when they learned in January the boy's cancer was not only no longer in remission, but had spread through his entire body.
Sometime later this year, the top floor restaurant at Devon Energy Center will open to the public. But with diminishing odds of survival, Brown was unwilling to wait that long.
What happened next is a tale I had to wait a few weeks to hear as Xander endured the harshest chemotherapy in his life.
It begins with Brown approaching family friend J.W. Peters, who in turn contacted an acquaintance at Devon, Tony Vaughn, a vice president, who then set in motion a whirlwind tour that indeed would have wowed the Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe in all of us.
None other than Larry Nichols, executive chairman of Devon, greeted the pair upon their start of the tour that clear, sunny January day. Contractors loaded up a bag with hard hats, construction stickers, gloves and other mementos usually reserved for dignitaries.
The adventure included a ride 30 feet up via a scissor-lift in the middle of the rotunda, followed by a ride all the way to the 50th floor on an unframed elevator cab. Xander and “G” also went up to the roof — atop the mechanical 51st floor — and enjoyed a view that will be seen by only the very few. Perched up high, Xander and “G” spotted their car parked by the Santa Fe Train Depot. They gazed toward Children's Hospital, where the boy faced a week of chemotherapy.
Xander, accompanied by his mother and grandfather, last week returned to Devon Energy Center where I met them at nebu. The cancer has not subsided. But when his mom gets upset at such news, it's Xander with the brave face. He reminds her, it could have been worse. The future, for Xander, is not set in stone.
When retelling this tale, the adults who accompanied Xander on his visits to Devon Energy Center struggle not to tear up. Yet in Xander's presence, there are no tears. There can be no tears. For Xander, downtown's growing skyline is a glimpse of an exciting future — one he's yet to give up on.