NEW PALESTINE — His favorite basketball cap sat comfortably on his head, hiding the effects of six rounds of chemotherapy.
Brody Stephens, 7, of New Palestine, climbed aboard the front seat of the firetruck, hesitant but excited to make one unforgettable entrance.
Waiting not far away at Sugar Creek Elementary School, Brody’s classmates and teachers, some 800 strong, were dressed in his favorite color, orange, holding get-well signs and good-luck banners.
There’s a long road ahead for the young cancer patient, who was treated to a sort of pep rally in his honor Thursday, but this close-knit town is behind him. All the way.
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For the second time in his young life, Brody is battling leukemia. On Friday, he will undergo a bone marrow transplant — his best chance against the disease, doctors say.
Brody was diagnosed in December, just one month shy of his five-year remission anniversary. The family learned he now has B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of leukemia in children, characterized by the presence of too many immature white blood cells in the patient’s blood and bone marrow.
The youngster first battled and beat acute myeloid leukemia when he was just 18 months old. AML is primarily a cancer of the bone marrow and lymph nodes.
The news last December was a heart-wrenching setback for the family, but support from the community has helped keep Brody and his parents, brothers and friends positive.
Standing in his driveway Thursday afternoon, Brody, a second-grader, said he was looking forward to seeing his classmates and friends for the first time in some while. Doctors appointments and treatments had kept him away.
“It will be fun,” the soft-spoken youngster said.
Students, teachers and parents lined the sidewalks in front of the school, chanting, “Brody, Brody, Brody,” as he rode past the well-wishers in the firetruck.
By week’s end, he had checked into Riley Hospital for Children to prepare for his surgery, which is scheduled for Friday.
The send-off brought mixed emotions for Brody and his family.
“He gets a little nervous some when he’s in the spotlight, but he’s feeling really good and ready to go and get the surgery done,” Celia Stephens, his mother, said.
The show of support has been unending, she added — special visits from professional athletes while Brody underwent chemo treatments, cards, presents, prayers and financial support.
Brody has gone through six rounds of chemotherapy since spring in an effort to keep the disease at bay long enough for him to undergo surgery.
Tiffany Buzan, assistant principal at Sugar Creek, set up Thursday’s good luck ride for Brody with the help of the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department.
Her son, Jackson Buzan, is a good friend of Brody’s. He assures his mom Brody is going to pull through.
“Every night, we pray for him, and Jackson tells me, ‘He’s going to get better and be back,’” she said through tears.
Brody will spend the week at Riley preparing for Friday’s surgery and then is expected to remain hospitalized for four to seven weeks as he recovers.
Brody will then stay at the Ronald McDonald House on the Riley campus for a month as he undergoes follow-up care.
News of the young boy’s battle has spread in the small community, and parents and supporters have come together to shower the family with positive energy.
Many parents in New Palestine helped spearhead the “Brody Strong” day for the students, teachers and community.
Local mom Melissa Linn came up with the idea to have everyone wear orange to support Brody. She wanted Brody’s parents to know they weren’t alone, that everyone has Brody’s battle in their hearts.
Heather Hill of New Palestine operates Hometown Apparel and printed the Team Brody shirts — half of all proceeds from the shirt sales went back to the Stephens family.
Jason Stephens already knows just how strong his son is. He looks at his son’s strength through his illness and is amazed — at all he’s done and all his father knows he’ll do when this is over.
“He’s the toughest kid I know,” he said.
Donations to help the family of Brody Stephens with his medical expenses can be made one of two ways:
1). Visit gofundme.com and search for Brody Stephens to make a donation to his campaign.
2). Drop donations off at Fifth Third Bank, 5902 W. U.S. 52 in New Palestine, to be put under the Celia Stephens account.
To follow Brody’s progress, visit Facebook and search for “Bubbles for Brody.”