Reporting Lisa Sigell
Update: Sadly, Jessie lost her battle with cancer on Thursday, January 5, 2012. Jessie’s memory and spirit will continue to live on through the thousands of people she touched and the foundation she inspired. » More
LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A loving couple, three beautiful kids and a faith as strong as any family can have — that, in words, describes the Rees family.
Erik Rees, a pastor at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, could not feel more blessed. He has also never been clearer on his role in life.
“I’m not a pastor right now, I’m just dad… This is different than going and sitting with a family as a pastor, because I’m just dad. My daughter doesn’t need a pastor, she needs her daddy,” Erik said while fighting back tears.
His youngest daughter, 12-year-old Jessie, has cancer. The first symptom was double vision and from there she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
It has been two months since the diagnosis. Jessie has endured 30 rounds of radiation, too many visits to the hospital to count and chemotherapy — a tough battle for anyone, let alone a 12-year old.
“There were points when you would cry, when you would have those days. And there were points when you were good,” Jessie said.
“It just breaks… because it’s your baby and you want to do everything you can to protect them and make sure it’s OK and sometimes it’s just out of your hands,” said Jessie’s mom, Stacey.
“It’s never easy being a dad. No it’s not. Daddies are supposed to make boo boos go away. You know, when she use to fall and skin a knee, I could help. Stacey could help. This one is out of our control,” Erik said.
Still, Jessie is surrounded by love. Her home is filled with cards and posters from her friends and church members. Her Facebook page is filled with thousands of posts from people praying for her.
These words and prayers lift her spirits up. But more than that is what she is doing for others, during a time when most of us would be busy worrying about ourselves.
”That’s not what it’s about,” she said while crying.
Jessie is going through a tough time, but it does not define her. She is all about joy and has even inspired a foundation called NEGU (Never Ever Give Up).
“Never ever give up. Is that how you feel?” I asked.
“Yes, stay strong and you can get through it,” she said.
With her foundation and special JoyJars, she wants to help other kids — especially the ones who cannot go home from the hospital during treatment, like she was able to do.
“I just wanted to make them happier, because I know they are going through a lot too,” Jessie said.
She fills the jars with things kids will enjoy and then brings them to Children’s Hospital of Orange County where she has been treated. She also sells JoyJars online — each one sold pays for one that she gives away.
They are for anyone, who needs a little joy in their life, maybe to give as a birthday present or even a baby gift.
“You know when people get hit with this kind of news, they kind of have one or two choices — be bitter or be better — and Jessie has clearly chosen to be better,” Erik said.
“It’s just inspiring others to keep going and to not give up. And you know, even when it gets tough, that you can get through it, and I think that is what she is touching others with,” Stacey said.
“We are fighting with Jessie,” Erik said.
“And she’s doing amazing,” Stacey added.
“Yes, she is… We’re so proud of her. I’m proud to be her dad.”
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