Even chemo can't keep this Santa down

'Santa' fights cancer to bring joy to local kids

When you're a real bearded Santa living in Texas, you have to lay low.

So most of the year a jolly old fellow in The Colony goes by "Bill Harrison." But come December, his true calling shines brighter than Rudolph's red nose.

"To bring that light and joy to a child is just amazing," Harrison said.

Harrison has been delighting families with his long white beard and hearty laugh for two decades. Every year Harrison says his Christmas gift is simply seeing the smiles on people's faces when Santa walks in the door. 

"I've watched families grow up for 15 years, it's just magic," Harrison said. 

Last October, when Harrison couldn't get rid of a cough, he went to the doctor. Suddenly the most wonderful time of the year became anything but.

He was diagnosed with leukemia. The prognosis without treatment was dire.

"When you're told if you do nothing you will be gone by Thanksgiving, well that shakes you up. It made my decision very easy," Harrison said. 

So Santa went to the hospital and underwent aggressive rounds of chemotherapy. The toxic but lifesaving medicine did a number on his body and took away one of his most prized possessions. 

"Losing the beard, that was tough. I'm not going to lie," Harrison said as tears welled in his eyes. 

Harrison's Santa booker called all the families and businesses to let them know he wouldn't be able to perform this holiday season. It was heartbreaking for clients, but no one grieved more than Santa himself.

"I was afraid I was going to let so many kids down during Christmas," Harrison said. 

Sitting out Christmas 2016 was one of the hardest things Harrison had ever done. So he resolved to do everything in his power to return the next year. 

"I said I will do everything humanly possible to beat cancer. I couldn't let those kids down another year," Harrison said. 

Defying the odds and after several rounds of chemotherapy, Harrison was given as clean a bill of health as he could hope for. The cancer isn't gone but it's under control.

One question lingered: Would he be able to regrow his beard before the holidays?

"It's a little shorter than usual, but I think it looks great," Harrison said. 

Like a true Christmas miracle, Harrison's beard returned as white as ever. In the last week of November he made his first return to the red hat and coat. 

"It just feels amazing," Harrison said. 

Santa greeted dozens of children at Christi Stidham's pottery shop "Color Me Mine" in Frisco. Stidham has worked with Santa for more than a decade and said his return was a prayer answered. 

"It just wasn't the same without him. He's amazing... and he is Christmas," Stidham said. 

Harrison is looking forward to a December full of Santa gigs. He doesn't know what the future holds when it comes to his health. But he says one thing is sure -- as long as he's able, he will spread Christmas joy to everyone he can.

"I'm grateful to God for my health, my wife and my family," Harrison said. "And I'm grateful he's allowing me to continue the work I started 15 years ago."

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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