AUSTIN (KXAN) — The 10th annual citywide Good Friday service, hosted at the Frank Erwin Center by a group of local churches, benefits a nonprofit that provides basic necessities, gifts, food and other care to families of kids fighting cancer and other illnesses.
B.I.G. Love Cancer Care, founded 12 years ago by Jessica Phillips, has grown to five hospitals and 20 programs, serving hundreds of thousands of people around south and central Texas.
Phillips and a group of volunteers surprised a Round Rock family Tuesday at Dell Children’s Blood and Cancer Center with gifts, pizza and an ice cream cake for Jaevin Wilson’s eleventh birthday.
“To see the smile on his face was amazing,” Anissa Robinson-Carter, Jae’s mom, said.
Jae has spent a lot of time at the clinic as his sickle cell disease has worsened. Much of fifth grade, his mom told KXAN, was spent out of school, alternating between home and the hospital.
“When I say he’s been through a lot, he’s had two major surgeries of two major organ removals,” Robinson-Carter said. “I almost lost him in September, and then in June, almost lost him as well.”
It’s tough on an 11-year-old, just as tough on his mom, whose younger son, Treylin, also has the blood disorder. “Every day you take one day at a time, and every moment is cherished.”
Phillips knows the struggles families go through when battling life-threatening illnesses. Her nonprofit’s goal is to make life a little easier in clinics, hospitals and cancer units, “but it started with a 3-year-old little girl,” she said. “My girl.”
In 2004, Phillips’ daughter Brooke was diagnosed with leukemia and spent the next two years fighting the disease in a cancer unit like the ones her mom visits now.
Through it all, Brooke never lost her giving spirit.
“To be able to see other people and to see their need and want to help, and to love them and to share her toys and to give our food and to reach out in the midst of her own suffering,” Phillips said, “it changed our life forever.”
Cancer took Brooke’s life in 2006, and the next year Phillips founded B.I.G. Love Cancer Care. The acronym stands for “Brooke’s Incredible Gift.”
This fall she plans to expand her charity to a sixth hospital and hopes to reach a seventh next year. It all takes a lot of money, and she relies on donations to keep the work going. Tickets to the citywide Good Friday service are free and available here. You can donate at the event or by going to the B.I.G. Love website.
“If we can have the kids smile a little bit more,” she said, “then we’ve done what we intended to do.”
The nonprofit also couldn’t function without the help of volunteers like Emili Krantz. She, too, knows the value of having a support system in uncertain times.
Her daughter, Isabel, was also 3 years old at the time of her leukemia diagnosis in 2016. The disease caused myriad complications, and for two years she fought through them with her family by her side.
“B.I.G. Love just kept coming through the door every week” to offer support, Krantz said.
Isabel completed treatment in July 2018 and is now in remission. Krantz didn’t wait long to get in touch with Phillips to offer her services to the nonprofit. Now she sits on the board and brings joy and relief to families like Jae’s.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have B.I.G. Love,” Robinson-Carter said.
Jae got out of the hospital most recently a week ago, a welcome change just days before his birthday. But his mom knows it won’t be his last time in a clinic or hospital room, and she knows she’ll need continued support as Jae keeps up his fight.
“Today, we’re praising and thanking God that we’re celebrating life, we’re excited about life,” Robinson-Carter said. “And to be here with B.I.G. Love and them showering my son with gifts and seeing him smile, as a mother, you thank God for those moments.”