Five-year-old Jillian’s fun-loving, happy-go-lucky attitude may have earned her the nickname “Sassy Massey,” but at the same time, “She thinks about everyone but herself,” says her mother, Janelle. A cancer diagnosis didn’t change Jillian one bit.
On April 12, 2016, Jillian was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a fast-growing, high-grade tumor in her brain and spinal cord. She was admitted to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) under the care of Jean Belasco, MD. Jillian’s inpatient stay lasted six months and included six courses of high-dose chemotherapy and three stem cell transplants.
Life in the hospital
Through it all, Jillian kept her spirits high, helped by doctors and nurses who danced with her and made her laugh. “I would ask her, ‘Do you know why we have been here so long?’” Janelle recalls. “And she would say, ‘To play, Mommy. CHOP is fun!’
CHOP became family, and they made our stay an incredible one. The hallways are full of love and, above all, hope.”
Of course, Jillian didn’t like everything about her Hospital stay. If she was facing an unpleasant procedure and a nurse asked her to pick a number to count to before it began, “She would say, ‘Ummmm … 1 billion!’” says Janelle with a laugh. “When told it had to be 1 through 20, she’d say, ‘I don’t like those numbers!’”
A drive to help kids
Jillian’s thoughtfulness showed itself after she went home in October 2016. A family friend mentioned the idea of a toy drive and Jillian became excited and determined to deliver toys to her friends who would be in the Hospital over the holidays. Her goal was 50 toys — one for each of the kids on CHOP’s Oncology Unit. The final toy count? More than 3,000. Each day of the toy drive, Jillian’s job was to gather all the packages that had been delivered and left on the family’s porch.
At home, Jillian had to remain in isolation for months to ensure she didn’t get any infections. During this time, she desperately wanted to resume her normal activities like gymnastics, school and swimming. Rather than endure the boredom of being stuck at home, sometimes she wished she could return to CHOP where she had so much fun.
In April 2017, Jillian was cleared to resume her normal activities outside her home. Since then, she’s been having fun and doing everything that a 5-year-old should be doing.
“CHOP has given us quality time with Jillian to create memories as a family,” says her father, James. “We are excited to assemble an epic team for the Parkway Run. We hope everyone there looks for Sassy Massey smiling and dancing in the streets.
“Together with many other families and friends, we can raise awareness and fund more options so that one day childhood cancer can be a ‘curable’ disease.”