Meg Reavis keeps her nephew, Bennett, and St. Jude close to her heart by organizing an annual event that has raised more than $1 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital since 2014.
Overwhelmed by my first visit to St. Jude, I cried the entire flight back to Texas.
St. Jude, a place where every child feels loved, and the entire staff goes above and beyond not just for patients, but family members, too.
I was one of those family members in January 2014, when my brother Ben needed help caring for his youngest child, Bennett, who was being treated for a rare, aggressive tumor on his liver. While Ben was at St. Jude with Bennett, his wife, Megan, stayed home with their other two children. I was called in as reinforcement for a week but I would have gone in a hummingbird’s heartbeat to be with my nephew, whose smile could melt your heart.
Three people cared for Bennett at this stage of his cancer journey: A nurse, Ben and I worked ‘round-the-clock shifts to keep him comfortable and in good spirits.
Bennett had come down with the flu right before I arrived, requiring us to be quarantined. From my vantage point in isolation with my brother and nephew, I witnessed the extraordinary level of care and love given to Bennett. The nurses were attuned to his every need, which, if you’ve ever met an 18-month-old, can pose quite a challenge. When food wasn’t tasting right from the chemo, and all Bennett could keep down was apple juice, he got apple juice — by the case. Every doctor talked to Ben and to Bennett.
I reluctantly headed back home after a week. I decided that I wanted — no, NEEDED — to help this hospital that was helping so many families just like ours.
Not doing something was no longer an option.
Everyone within earshot heard me talk about this wonderful and wondrous hospital and how I hoped to give back: my husband, our friends, our church family, people in the grocery checkout line.
Three friends took a leap of faith with me on a Texas-sized plan to create an event that would raise awareness for St. Jude in our community some 500 miles away.
But this was no bake sale I had in mind. It was going to take the time and the talents of Brooke (the logistics/community builder), Jennifer (the best party planner in town) and Elyse (the red-tape cutter) to realize this dream. We started planning and making calls.
It was a challenge at first; many didn’t understand why St. Jude. I wanted them to know what I knew: While St. Jude isn’t in our state, its research is freely shared with doctors everywhere, so a kid saved at St. Jude helps other children all around the world.
Amid all the planning, I received another call from my brother: It’s time. I heard all I needed to know from the tone in his voice. A scan found more spots on Bennett’s lungs and liver, and tumors were pressing on his bladder. Cancer was ravaging his little body.
Our family gathered at St. Jude to be with Bennett. Everyone at St. Jude went above and beyond to make sure we got to spend as much time with Bennett as possible.
We dined in the Kay Kafe, eating ice cream before (OK, as) dinner. You see, when you have a smile like Bennett’s, you get all the flavors of ice cream you ask for, which Bennett did, much to the delight of his cousins (the beneficiaries of his bounty).
That dinner reminded me so much of our family reunions, when we all wore color-coded shirts and played games during the day and told campfire stories at night. At St. Jude, the camaraderie and laughter were still there, but this time there was just one color: Blue – Bennett’s favorite color.
The love shown by Bennett’s care team in those last days, and even hours and moments before he passed, are forever fixed in my mind.
So are the words of Danny Thomas: No child should die in the dawn of life. Bennett’s death brought me even closer to St. Jude and fueled my passion to want to be part of the solution. We pressed on with our plans.
We held our first Bennett’s Bash later that year. And what a bash it was, with an emcee, live bands, a dinner, an auction and most importantly, a community of family, friends and supporters who came together for Bennett and St. Jude.
Hundreds of people attended that first bash, with many returning in subsequent years.
We are now six years strong for Bennett’s Bash, and to date we have raised more than $1 million for St. Jude. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the outpouring of love for Bennett, the boy whose smile could melt your heart.
Maybe I should have. Because just as we brought the story of St. Jude to Texas, Texas has delivered hope to the patient families at St. Jude.