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From the Heart

Submitted by Michelle Welch

AHOSKIE – Four-year-old Nathan Willoughby and his six- year-old sister, Abigail, were initially confused as the trucks and trailer rolled in at 6:45 a.m. from ROC Solid Foundation out of Chesapeake, VA to set up at their home in Ahoskie on Saturday, Nov. 5.

As more people arrived, tents and tables were set up, tools were unloaded from the trailer – the kids became more and more curious as to what was going on.  Eric Newman, the founder of ROC Solid Foundation, explained to the kids that everyone was there to build them “tomato boxes”.

When the brand new white Chrysler 300 stretch limo drove down the road towards the house, Nathan’s eyes were huge!  He loves cars of all types and the 300 series is one of his many favorites.  When it backed in to the neighbors driveway Nathan was jumping up and down with pure joy and excitement.

Lindsay and John Willoughby, Nathan and Abigail’s parents, explained to the kids that they were going “out of town in a new car” and the family couldn’t wait to get in and head off. 

Unknown to the kids, this was going to be a very special day for the Willoughby family.  First they were loaded into the limo and everyone gave them shouts of love and wishes for a fun day.  The kids didn’t know that they were off to Chesapeake, VA for a breakfast at Chic-Fil-A and then a morning of fun, games, and food at Chuck E. Cheese. 

 ROC Solid Foundation founder Eric Newman visits with Nathan Willoughby and his sister, Abigail, prior to the youngsters departing on a lunch trip in a stretch limo while the play set was being constructed.

ROC Solid Foundation founder Eric Newman visits with Nathan Willoughby and his sister, Abigail, prior to the youngsters departing on a lunch trip in a stretch limo while the play set was being constructed.

The choice of Chuck E. Cheese held a special meaning to Nathan’s mom, Lindsay. Nathan and Abigail were invited to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese on July 9.  Nathan was refusing to eat his dinner the Friday night before and Lindsay punished him as most parents would by not allowing him to go to the birthday party. Unknown at the time, the reason Nathan was refusing to eat was because he had a cancerous tumor growing in his abdomen.

On July 19, Nathan was diagnosed with Stage 3 High Risk Unfavorable Histology Neuroblastoma and it is being treated as a Stage 4. 

The evening of July 19, the family was rushed to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk, VA.  The next morning, a member of Child Life at CHKD arrived in their room with a very large rolling duffel bag donated by ROC Solid Foundation, called a “Ready Bag” that was filled with toiletries for everyone in the family, activity books, coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, blanket, pillow, and in Nathan’s case a Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet to play with during the many long drives back and forth to the hospitals each week and while he is in the hospital for treatments.

While the family was away for the morning, many more people (37 in total) showed up to build the “tomato boxes” in the backyard for Nathan and his sister. Those that love, support, and care about the Willoughby’s came to help from far and near.  Nathan and Abigail’s – Mamu (Michelle Welch) flew in from CT, his Great Aunt and Uncle (Dina and Jim Felicetti) drove up from FL, local long time family friends Kris and Becca Wynn and their three children, came to help, as well as five members of the Northeast Academy football team – Cole Rose, Austin Bradley, Josh Byrd, Cole Deloatch, and L.J. Barnes.  Volunteers from CHKD included current cancer patients and their families – Jessica and Cayla Williams (#CaylaStrong) and Cayla’s Aunt Riley, Shane, Holly, and Tanner Sprague (#TeamTanner), as well as Child Life member Lauren Hinerth and medical student Kelly Willett (EVMS).  Many other volunteers from the ROC Solid Foundation also came to help – complete strangers to the Willoughby family.  Nathan and Abigail’s grandparents, Wayne and Lynette Willoughby were also on hand for the big reveal at the end when the family arrived home from their surprise trip of fun.

With so many wonderful volunteers on hand, they made quick work of building a wooden play set for the kids.  One of the unfortunate problems that cancer children face is that they are no longer allowed to go to public places to play anymore.  With compromised immune systems, the opportunities of being out and about in public become very limited.

One of the things that ROC Solid Foundation sets out to do is to bring play back to the homes of the children and families effected by cancer.  For children up to 8 years old – they build wooden play sets at the child’s home.  All of this is done with corporate sponsorships and donations to ROC Solid Foundation (www.rocsolidfoundation.org) and awesome volunteers that believe every child should have the chance to play and be kids whenever possible.

Eric Newman is a childhood cancer survivor and a previous patient at CHKD and his mission in life is to bring hope to childhood cancer families, mostly in VA and NC.

Upon arriving at home, Nathan and Abigail were blindfolded, and carefully walked to the back yard to see the “tomato boxes” that their new friends built for them during the time they were away.  The look on both children’s faces were priceless when the blindfolds were removed and they just stared open mouthed and slightly confused at the new wooden play set that stood before them.  To the cheers, whistles, and shouts of encouragement, the children ran to their new play set and began to run around it, climb the ladder and rock wall, slide down the green slide, and swing on the swings.

The kids couldn’t believe that this was their very own play set and that is was staying in the back yard just for them.  Abigail, after sliding down the slide, looked to Eric and asked “excuse me Sir, do we get to keep this?” and when he answered “Yes” she gave him a big hug and thanked him before running off to swing.

Nathan walked over to Jeff Floyd, one of the volunteers of ROC Solid Foundation and declared to him “you tricked us!  There are no tomato boxes!”  Jeff then asked him if it was “ok that they built him a play set instead”, to which Nathan gave him a hug and said “yes!” and ran off to play some more.

While the children played, Jeff Floyd dedicated the play set to the Willoughby family.  A plaque was presented to the family that shares what “Cancer Cannot Do – Eat Away Peace, Corrode Faith, Kill Friendship, Destroy Confidence, It Cannot Silence Courage, Reduce Eternal Life, Shut Out Memories, Cripple Love, Conquer The Spirit, Shatter Hope…Cancer Is So Limited”.  This plaque had originally been given to Newman’s parents when he was first diagnosed and it is something that he shares with all of the families that he works with.  This is something that is so very true to the Willoughby’s.

One thing that is amazing to all that have met Nathan is the fight and determination that Nathan has shown in the past three plus months to beat this evil that is in his body.  No matter what happens to him, needle pokes, transfusions, infections, throwing up, fevers, etc…Nathan always has a smile on his face and is ready for the next battle.  He continues to amaze his family, friends, and the medical staff at CHKD.

At this point the party began with pizza and play.  Many hugs and offers of thanks from the family, and words of support, love, hope, and caring from the volunteers that were on hand.

Nathan and Abigail, as well as their parents and grandparents, would like to thank ROC Solid Foundation, Northeast Academy football coach Stevie Flythe and his players, CHKD friends, their family and friends, and all of the many volunteers that we never got to learn the names of who came out to show some hope, love, care, support, and an incredible amount of selflessness to help the Willoughby family get a little piece of happiness back in what has been a very difficult time for the family.

The Willoughby’s still have a long road to take in this battle they face with Nathan.  The weekly trips to Norfolk to the Clinic at CHKD and the inpatient stays at CHKD, the trips they have made and will still have to make to Duke University Medical Center for his stem cell harvesting and transplants (in 2017), the numerous hospital stays during and after his chemotherapy, the food and gas expenses, the medication expenses, etc.  If you can find it in your heart, the family has set up a GoFundMe account for the family to help with the many additional expenses that the family faces on a weekly basis.  Please visit the page, no donation is too small, https://www.gofundme.com/2pa25yks?ssid=796810831&pos=1.

If you are interested in following along with #ourlilsuperhero, please visit the FaceBook page that they have dedicated to him – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1131844100240987/ or do a search for “Nathan Updates” and request to join. 

The family would also like to thank the community of Ahoskie and the surrounding cities for the support, prayers, and encouragement that they have offered to the family.