Ailing mom's attendance at son's dog show is perfect medicine for both

Ailing mom's attendance at son's dog show is perfect medicine for both

Teen's ailing mom gets lift to see son win at state fair

TOLONO — Duncan Hughes has dazzled judges this year, collecting blue ribbons at the Champaign County 4-H Dog Show and Illinois State Fair in dog obedience for his handling of 11-year-old black Labrador, Buck.

But Duncan's mom, Sarah, says handling Buck isn't her 14-year-old son's lone talent.

"He's really good at the piano," she said.

"I prefer the guitar," Duncan snapped back.

"When he was 5 or 6, he was pounding out Christmas melodies by ear," his mom said.

It brings great joy to Hughes to see her children, including 11-year-old Mason and 9-year-old Shelby, thriving in their chosen activities.

But it has been especially uplifting these past few years as Hughes has battled leukemia. And as Duncan and Buck were wowing crowds in June en route to winning the Champaign County competition, held at Urbana's Dog Training Club, Hughes was right there cheering them on.

But after a monthlong stay at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital in which she received a bone-marrow transplant, Hughes thought it would be impossible to watch her boys compete at the state fair. For starters, being around so many kids and dogs for an extended period of time wasn't advisable, her doctors told her.

She had a few things working in her favor, though — such as the state competition being held close to home at the same site as the Champaign County competition, instead of the state fairgrounds in Springfield.

And little did she know that husband Jerry and some friends were colluding behind the scenes to find a way to make sure she could be there for Duncan and Buck.

"I didn't plan on going," Hughes said.

But Jerry had a friend who lives nearby pick Sarah up shortly before Duncan and Buck were to be on center stage, drive her to the competition, mask covering her face and all, in time to see them perform for the judges.

"I was so excited, and they dragged me right back out of there and back home right away," she said.

Duncan, adopted by Jerry and Sarah Hughes two days after he was born in December 2002, was thrilled to see his mom.

"It feels pretty good to see her there," he said. "I knew she was coming."

The good news is Mom's feeling better since being released from Northwestern, where she says she was spoiled rotten in her "penthouse suite with seven windows" in the middle of downtown Chicago. Impressive accommodations not withstanding, Hughes was eager to get home to Jerry and the kids on their farm in rural Champaign County.

"I get the same treatment here; the kids have really grown this summer," she said. "Duncan immediately stepped up to the plate as a 14-year-old and has done exceptionally well taking care of me and the kids."

It's no wonder Duncan is so good with Buck and the other animals on the Hughes farm, including a horse he plans to show in future competitions. Daily, after watering on the farm, mucking and throwing hay, Duncan is home-schooled by his parents throughout the course of the day. His free time is spent with the animals.

"I work with Buck, and I like working with my horse," he said.

"He's so good with the animals; he's got such a gentle spirit," Jerry Hughes said. "That's why he and Buck get along so well."

It has also come in handy when it comes to taking care of Mom, who expects to be cancer-free soon after another round of oral chemotherapy in the next few weeks.

One thing that's certainly helping is Duncan's smile, the same one he had at 2 days old when he became a member of the Hughes family with chubby cheeks and a head full of hair.

"One of his siblings said this morning when Duncan smiles, it brightens the whole room," Sarah said. "And when he laughs, it's right from the belly; he's really great."

"I don't know what they're talking about," Duncan said.

He may try to hide his soft side behind his tough teenage exterior, but his actions — whether it be with his mom, Buck or the other animals — prove otherwise.

"He's very compassionate, very helpful and he really likes to help out," Jerry said. "He's really stepped up as the oldest in the family at home, and that's been great."

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sweet caroline wrote on September 19, 2017 at 10:09 am

Duncan, what a wonderful son you are!  And brother, friend, animal nurturer, and all-around human being!  Your future is bright, young man.  Never stop believing in yourself.