Boy with cancer forms friendship with Republic Waste Service Driver

A Sammamish boy and the man who picks up the garbage on his block have formed an unexpected bond. They both know what it’s like to fight cancer.
Author: Ted Land
A Sammamish boy and the man who picks up the garbage on his block have formed an unexpected friendship. One is just learning to walk. The other has been working for decades, but they share something in common: cancer.

On most blocks, garbage day is just another chore, but at two-year-old Isaac Williams’ suburban Seattle home, Wednesday mornings are not to be missed.

“He goes to the window, he waves, he wants to come outside. We love garbage trucks,” said Kelli Williams, Isaac’s mom.

For any toddler, it’s fun to watch hulking machines rumble by. For Isaac, the highlight is seeing the guy in the neon vest behind the wheel.

“Hey, Rick! Hi Rick!” Isaac shouted as the truck pulled up to his driveway.

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Rick Neatherlin, a sanitation engineer with Republic Services, and Isaac have become fast buddies over the past few weeks.

“Gimme some knuckles buddy,” Neatherlin said as he greeted the toddler Wednesday.

Isaac has stage four cancer of his nervous system. He’s had a stem cell transplant, five rounds of chemo, and starts radiation at Seattle Children’s next week.

“Man, he’s two years old; never had that chance to even be a kid yet, you know, and to see him go through this…” Neatherlin said.

“That hit home,” said Neatherlin, whose wife is fighting cancer. So is his mom.

When a neighbor told him about Isaac’s condition, something in him stirred.

“I just wanted to do something for that little boy and their family; that’s just how we are,” Neatherlin said.

Last week, Neatherlin and some colleagues rolled up to the Williams’ house in their 18-ton trucks, loaded with presents. The crew hung out, opened gifts, and got to know the little boy they passed so many times.

“The support. That’s what it’s about, this little man here. I want to support him, I want to see him go through his graduation. That’s what I told his mom,” Neatherlin said. “Anything I can do to help him get that far, I’m there for him.”

“We’re blessed. We’re very grateful,” said Kelli Williams.

By 10 a.m., Neatherlin continued on his pickup route. At the curb, Isaac waved goodbye and looked forward to the next visit.

“It means the world,” Williams said.