A Mother Never Forgets
For Sarah Tackett of San Angelo, 2003 was like any other year, or at least that's how it started.
Her son, Justin, was a perfectly normal boy. “At thirteen, he was six feet tall,” Tackett says as if she still doesn’t believe it. “He’d always been healthy, no abnormal health issues.”
What nobody expected was that a seemingly non-threatening growth would turn out to be a mother's nightmare.
“I noticed his nose was swollen,” she said. “We thought it might be a cyst of some sort.”
As the swelling persisted, Tackett and her son visited an ear, nose and throat doctor to attempt to have it drained. It was then that family found out the presumed cyst was a tumor, and a sample of tissue was sent off for testing.
It didn't take long before the fateful telephone rang, bringing news that was emotionally devastating. The tumor had been identified as cancerous, and within three days Tackett and her teenage boy Justin arrived at the Cooks Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth.
“Justin was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma. It’s a cancer of the soft muscle tissue,” explained Tackett. “Two days later started our year-long hell of chemo and six weeks of radiation.”
Justin was given a 20 percent chance of survival and was stage four at diagnosis.
In 2004, Children’s Miracle Network asked if he wanted to be a miracle kid, an offer that Justin accepted.
“My son liked being a part of CMN,” Tackett smiled. “He never felt sorry for himself, or felt like he was a sick kid.”
Justin particularly liked participating in the Radioathon hosted by Children’s Miracle Network and Foster Communication's KIXY-FM because it gave him a chance to meet the other miracle kids.
“Back then social media didn’t keep people updated,” Tackett explained. “Before social media, CMN got the news out.”
As word spread of Justin's illness, the community stepped in to support the family.
“People came to us just to help him at Christmas--people, anonymous donors--so that he could have a nice Christmas,” Tackett said.
That was one of many instances that the city of San Angelo proved to be more than generous to Tackett and her family.
“We were overwhelmed by the support of the community,” Tackett smiled.
She explained that the generosity of San Angelo always goes above and beyond expectations, citing Dairy Queen, Stripes and McAlisters as being big supporters, and the citizens themselves for supporting miracle kids.
Although her son did not win his battle with cancer, Tackett still supports Children’s Miracle Network, she says, because she feels that it is a great cause and it helped her family so much.
“After my son passed, Shannon [Medical Center] reached out to us,” Tackett explained. “They named their teen lounge ‘Justin’s Joint.’”
The lack of something for the teenagers at the hospital was always something that Justin thought would be helpful to hospitalized teenagers, Tackett says.
Tackett also mentioned a few other changes that have happened since 2004.
“They have a chemo clinic here now. They didn’t have [one] for my son, we had to go to Fort Worth,” she explained. “He didn’t want to go to Cooks, he wanted to stay here with his friends and family.”
With the new equipment in place, Shannon is able to let children stay at home.
“It gets costly with travel,” Tackett explained. “All the work you miss adds up too, not to mention medical costs.”
However, to Tackett, the most important thing about Children’s Miracle Network is the local factor.
“That money stays here,” she explained. “I think it’s well worth it.”
When people donate to CMN the money goes towards the miracle kids, rather than filter down from a national center.
To this day Tackett remains involved in Children’s Miracle Network, participating in the annual radioathon and other fundraisers.
“At diagnosis you feel alone and when you go to telethon and at radioathon you meet other families going through the same thing,” she explained. “When dealing with same issues you can support each other.”
One such family that Tackett became familiar with were the Fiveashes, and she participates in Cheyenne’s Rally every year that she can.
“Cheyenne and Justin died within the same week," Tackett explained. "I’ve always felt a connection with them.”
She also mentioned that fundraisers in honor of their children do wonders for the families.
“You don’t want people to forget your child, you want their memory to live on,” she smiled.
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