One measure of a community is how it treats its children. And this week, with the sad death of 11-year-old Makanda Williams, the community that grew up around her fight for life can at least take comfort in knowing they helped give her and her family hope during their darkest days.
Almost a year ago, Makanda was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, an aggressive and rare childhood brain cancer that strikes children between ages 3 and 10. She had 30 radiation treatments that did not stop the cancer, and then doctors told the family that there was nothing more to do.
Unwilling to give up, Makanda's mother and stepfather, Sarah and John Carlton, searched the internet and talked with other parents of DIPG children. Through them, they heard of an experimental treatment in Monterrey, Mexico.
The family wanted to try, but getting Makanda to Mexico and into treatment was going to be expensive.
A fundraiser at the Benton Eagles had been held two weeks after her diagnosis, to help get Makanda to radiation treatments in St. Louis. Five hundred people came to it.
Now, another 5,000 people followed Makanda's story on her mom's blog, MakandaStrong, and donated there. Local civic leaders put their names behind fundraisers, there were plant sales and concerts, MakandaStrong shirts, dinners, auctions, trivia nights, fishing tournaments, a princess day and raffles.
What is remarkable about the fundraising, was that going in most people sensed it was unlikely that an experimental treatment in Mexico was going to work. Dismissing the grim statistics that surround DIPG, they freely gave money anyway.
They were funding hope.
Hope is a powerful thing because it is a belief, not just a wish. People who have hope believe that things will improve. And when people believe, obstacles fall away more quickly because these same people work to make things happen.
In this case, hope got Makanda to Mexico. The community of hopers and believers helped give the family strength to go on, to try to create their own miracle, as opposed to just wishing one would fall on them.
And now, this hope moves on in a different form.
Thousands of people who previously never heard of DIPG are now aware. The Carltons and other families devastated by DIPG will continue supporting medical research that will eventually find a cure.
As long as they believe a cure is out there, hope will never die.