As Frank Weaver watched his daughter graduate from elementary school last month, he couldn’t help but cry.
It’s been almost a year since Lily Weaver was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare malignant bone tumor that had spread to her lungs. After three surgeries, numerous chemotherapy treatments, countless other therapies, and a 43-day stay in Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., Lily is cancer free and looking forward to starting middle school this coming year. The 11-year-old New Market Elementary School graduate was given a standing ovation as she walked across the school stage.
“Everybody in the whole place started clapping and cheering,” Weaver said. “It was like oh, my God, everybody gets it.”
The father said he was so overcome that he had to concentrate on not dropping the iPad he was using to record the ceremony.
“We have [the graduation] on video and it still gives me chills,” said Amy Weaver, Lily’s mother.
Lily, a long-time dancer, had just started cheerleading when the disease was diagnosed on Aug. 5, after she complained about pain in her left arm. What her parents thought was a routine sports injury turned out to be a tumor “the size of a racket ball.”
Frank, a youth sports coach, said he had to look at the cancer treatment process with a sports mindset to get through it.
“I would look around [the hospital wing] and think there’s five of us here, at least one of us is not coming home,” Frank said. “I had to think really it’s not me, it’s a game and we want to win. I’d tell Lily this, everyday is a game ... [and] somewhere down the road I’m going to win this game.”
Now, thanks to the widespread community support for the New Market family, which includes Lily’s sister Gracie and brother Frankie, the game is coming to an end. While Lily still has to fully recover from having surgery on her arm to remove the affected bone and will probably have periodic cancer screenings for the rest of her life, she was well enough that she was able to go on the family’s annual Ocean City vacation last week.
This “taught us a lot, it’s remarkable to see how far she’s come,” Amy said. “This is all that we pray for.”
“Everything is great, which is amazing,” Frank said. “We’re down here at the beach and she was doing cartwheels [last year], and she not doing cartwheels this year, but she’s here.”
Frank, a physical education teacher at Rockville High School and Amy, who taught second grade at Cedar Grove Elementary School in Damascus before taking a year off to care for Lily, said people from across Frederick and Montgomery counties have helped them through Lily’s illness.
Several events have been organized to raise awareness about pediatric cancer and support Lily in her fight, including a 5K run held last year and an upcoming golf tournament.
“My first thought [when she was diagnosed] was ‘oh, my God how am I going to pay for everything, I’m not going to be able to help Lily’,” Frank said. The community “made it so easy for us. All over Montgomery and Frederick County they have done stuff. The support that we had through Frederick was amazing, I couldn’t ask to live in a better place.”
More than 130 people have already registered for the Lily’s Hope Golf Benefit, being held July 16 at Holly Hills Country Club in Ijamsville and organized in conjunction with the Patty Pollatos Fund, Inc., a nonprofit that raises funds for families dealing with temporary financial strain caused by cancer and other challenges. Only a few spots are left for prospective tournament participants.
The event, organized in three months, will include the opportunity to win prizes like a two-year lease on a 2012 Mercedez Benz compliments of Mercedez Benz of Hagerstown and a $5,000 prize for a par 3 hole in one.
Proceeds from the tournament will go to the family this year, but Frank said the family is planning to expand the event and the Lily’s Hope organization to help other families living through pediatric cancers.
“We are a lucky family because we have a humongous support group and there are families that don’t have that,” he said.“That’s my goal, to make [the tournament] a big thing.”
”I’m looking forward to the future to giving back a lot,” Amy said.
As for Lily, she said she hopes to get straight A’s next year and be a kindergarten teacher when she grows up.
“I like to play with little kids,” she said.