Mollie, Abigail and Mike Jones. Photos courtesy of the Jones family.
It started out as a sore back. But, because 7-year-old Abigail Jones had spent the previous day frolicking in a family member’s pool at a July 4th celebration, Mike and Mollie Jones chalked it up to overexertion. When the problems persisted, and Abigail began having trouble breathing while riding her bike, they went to the doctor.
Abigail’s left lung was completely filled with fluid, and at first glance, physicians thought it was pneumonia. They notified the Joneses that she’d most likely need a chest-tube to drain the lung to allow Abigail to breathe normally again. However, when the surgeon went in to perform the procedure they found something much worse. Abigail had multiple masses growing in her abdomen and on her vertebrae, one of which was causing her spine to be pushed out of alignment, and the largest of which was growing in her chest cavity, causing her respiratory issues.
Abigail was diagnosed with a form of Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of rare bone cancer that affects about 1 percent of children. Her tumors had metastasized and were curving her spine, leading the doctors to deem them inoperable.
“It’s pretty much every parent's worst nightmare,” Mollie said of her daughter's diagnosis in July of this year.
Abigail started chemotherapy treatment almost immediately at the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Care Center (JJCCC) at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. For the past six months, the Joneses have spent as much time at Miller as they have at their Huntington Beach home. But because of the advancement of the disease, an aggressive approach was the only recourse.
“We didn’t really have any other option,” Mollie said. “We didn't’ really even have time to research to know what our choices were. But there isn’t really any other choice when it’s that severe.”
Despite being limited to the JJCCC and her home, which needed renovations to account for her compromised immune system due to the chemotherapy, Mollie said her daughter has been resilient. The staff at Miller and the onsite art and music therapists—Miller has an art therapy program to help patients express themselves and heal through creativity— have made the extended hospital visits more bearable. Abigail loves art and even participated in an annual children’s art show this year.
Huntington Beach is home to Brandon McGuinness, who before losing his life to Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 26, started the 501(c)(3) non-profit F C Cancer Foundation. Though pointing out that Abigail doesn’t speak with the vulgarity with which McGuinness’s foundation markets its anti-cancer message, Mollie says it’s representative of her daughter’s determination to beat her illness.
“She just says, ‘I’m beating it,’” Molly said. “I’m going to beat this. I’ve got it.”
The process has been equally taxing for her parents. Between daily commutes to Burbank for work and spending weeks-on-end in Abigail's hospital room, Mike needed a break from the hospital, the fast food and from cancer. After months spent at his daughter’s side, Mike did something for himself he hadn't done in a while, and went to the gym. He needed a release and he found a sanctuary at Achieve Fitness.
Justin Lesh, the owner of the gym knew something was up when Mike walked through the door after being away for so long. Always one of the more quiet of his 150 or so members, he was vocal and emphatic. Achieve is a tight-knit community, so when Mike took Lesh aside to explain his absence, Lesh said he felt the blow as if he’d received the bad news about his own family member.
“It hit us a lot more because this is something you see on a 20/20 special,” Lesh said. “This isn’t something that happens in real life.”
Lesh, who has hosted multiple fundraisers for members and charities over the years, immediately offered his help. The Joneses, who had already had a donation account set up by Abigail’s gymnastics organization, thought it was a great idea, but said they couldn’t accept the money. Instead, they wanted the proceeds to go toward the Miller, in particular the JJCCC, in part because it has served as a second home to them, but mostly because of the great care they’ve provided to Abigail.
“They didn’t necessarily need or want any money per-say even though we offered to do a fundraiser in their honor,” Lesh said. “But they said they would really like if we could do something for the hospital.”
So, Lesh is hosting an “Elf Workout,” an Elf on the Shelf holiday-themed fundraiser to give back to the hospital that has brought one his members' children so close to a clean bill of health. The workout is open to children and adults, and he encourages everyone to dress festively, have fun and be ready to break a sweat in the name of charity. He hosted a similar event last year and said that people showed up in tutus and Santa hats as they did “Reindeer Crawls” and other metabolic exercises. He’s hopeful that his recent move to a larger facility will allow more people to attend and hit his fundraising goal of five thousand dollars.
“I always dream big,” Lesh said of the goal he’s set. “Everyone is just so fired up to help her out because kids shouldn’t have to go through that kind of stuff. If we could do $5,000.00 I’d be absolutely stoked.”
Earlier this month, the Jones family received promising news after Abigail’s first surgery to remove tumor tissue that had been shrunk by her chemotherapy treatments. In addition to the tumors being reduced in size, which allowed her spine to realign, nearly all of the masses removed were scar tissue—which means the chemo has been affective. Doctors have told the Joneses that they’re confident that Abigail won’t go under the knife again and the rest of the growths should be eliminated with more treatment.
Although Abigail won't be present at the event because her immune system dictates limiting her exposure to illness, Mike and Mollie will be. They’re grateful for all the backing they’ve received from the Achieve community and they’re hopeful that in addition to the funds raised by Lesh’s “Elf Workout”, awareness will be raised for children’s cancer. Mollie said that the support that the family has received throughout the process of Abigail’s treatment has renewed her belief in people.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” Mollie said. “I will say the one thing in all this since she’s been diagnosed is it just kind of gives you faith in human kind because people have just been amazing.”
The suggested donation is $15 per participant with all proceeds benefitting the Jonathan Jaques Children's Cancer Center at Miller Children's Hospital. A raffle will also be held with multi-week training sessions as prizes.
The Elf Workout for Abigail will be held Saturday, December 20 from 9:00am - 10:00am at Achieve Fitness, 16551 Burke Lane, Huntington Beach, CA 92647.