Draper community comes together to celebrate and support 7-year-old battling brain cancer
Oct 21, 2019 01:34PM
● By Stephanie Yrungaray
Billie with her dad prior to starting radiation treatments. (Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Shaun Photography)
By Stephanie Yrungaray | [email protected]
Friends, family, neighbors, schoolmates and community members gathered together to welcome home 7-year-old Draper resident Billie Jackson at Billie’s Boo Bash.
The Jackson family’s life was upended in July during a vacation in California when they found out their healthy, active, fun-loving daughter had medulloblastoma, a very rare brain cancer.
“It was the worst thing ever,” said Dustin Jackson, Billie’s dad. “You are sitting there thinking about going home and what to fix your kids for lunch and then you find out your child has a tumor in her brain.”
The Jacksons were sent immediately via ambulance to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. The day after the brain tumor was discovered, a successful surgery removed all of the tumor but left Billie with no coordination in her right arm and temporarily unable to walk.
The Jacksons stayed in California for another week and a half to find out the results of the tumor biopsy. Billie had WNT-activated medulloblastoma.
“There are four subtypes of medulloblastoma — only 10% of cases have the type Billie has. The other three types are very aggressive,” said Jackson. “The prognosis for Billie is a 70–80% five-year survival rate. It has one of the best outlooks to be cured.”
After returning home to Utah, the Jacksons took Billie to Primary Children’s Hospital and received the recommendation of six weeks of specialized targeted proton radiation in Seattle, followed by seven months of chemotherapy.
“She was a prime candidate for this type of radiation,” said Jackson. “We went to the proton center to start treatment immediately.”
The Jacksons, who have five children, said it was difficult for their family to be separated, but they had lots of visits from family members.
Kennan Gregory, Billie’s aunt, went to Seattle to visit one weekend and came up with the idea for Billie’s welcome home Boo Bash.
“We were riding on a Seattle ferris wheel when she saw a bounce house and said she wanted to go on it. I said, ‘Billie, we need to have a party when you get back. What kind of party do you want?’” said Gregory. “She wanted it to be about Halloween and fall and we kept talking about it while I was out there. When I got home I contacted Kim and asked for her help.”
Kim Minnick’s family home borders the Jackson’s backyard and they have been great friends for about six years.
“Everyone knows Billie and if you didn’t know her she was happy to get to know you,” Minnick said. “When Kennan told me she wanted to bring Halloween to Billie I said, ‘Tell me what to do and I will get it done.’”
Because Billie only has a short break between radiation ending and chemotherapy beginning and will miss Halloween, they decided to create Billie’s Boo Bash for her welcome home party.
When they began organizing the event, Gregory and Minnick quickly decided they didn’t want to make it about fundraising, the wanted to make it all about Billie.
“We knew a lot of the people that would come would be family or friends that had already donated money [for medical expenses],” Minnick said. “We just wanted to make it about Billie and we wanted everyone to enjoy themselves and enjoy their time with her.”
Both Gregory and Minnick were amazed at the outpouring of support they received from the community.
“I was so impressed how people we don’t even know would reach out and offer to help,” Gregory said.
Over 300 people attended Billie’s Boo Bash, held on Oct. 4 when Billie returned to Utah from Seattle. There were bounce houses, carnival games and face painting, a DJ, a costume contest, food trucks and a chance for Billie to catch up with her friends and family.
“She was happy and running from group to group,” Gregory said. “There were people there from all different walks of her life — both sides of her family, neighbors, friends from dance and friends from school. I think she felt really special to have all of that attention.”
The event offered a little break from the difficulties that go along with having a child with cancer. Jackson said the surgery and treatments Billie needed were mostly done by doctors and facilities out of their medical insurance network. Because of this, they have already accumulated medical expenses that total around $700,000.
Jackson’s cousin, Draper resident Mike Muir, is trying to offset some of those costs through “Race for Billie.”
“I’m a member of Salt Lake Tri Club and I reached out to that network to put together a bunch of Utah age group triathletes,” said Muir. “They are all fundraising for Billie and will compete in the Indian Wells Iron Man 70.3 race on Dec. 8 for her.”
Currently, there are 13 racers raising money for the Jackson family, but Muir said he would love to if more athletes joined the cause.
“If we can help cover the cost of Billie’s treatments with our efforts we would be super happy,” said Muir. “I think that the triathlon community, in general, is generous and positive and encouraging. We would also love it if the readers of the Draper Journal could help boost us to reach our goal.”
Muir said people can contact him on Facebook for more information at @RaceForBillie about the race or donating to his fundraiser.
Additional options for donating money to the Jackson family are through their Venmo or GoFundMe accounts under @sweetbravebillie.
You can follow Billie’s journey on Facebook or Instagram as well under @sweetbravebillie
“It is so humbling,” said Jackson. “People come out of the woodwork that you don’t know and donate meals money and time. Me and my wife have spent many nights in tears being so grateful for what people have done for us. It’s so hard to thank everyone but we are so grateful.”