For most, what might have been a normal sports injury, completely turned Jillian Ripley’s world upside down.
In 2016, Jillian and her mother, Julia, found themselves in Children’s Hospital on what had initially seemed like an average sports injury. Jillian had been playing competitive basketball when she injured her leg. After a series of ongoing tests, what initially was thought to be a basketball injury, revealed to be something more devastating: Osteosarcoma.
Jillian quickly found herself trading out her basketball team for a new team at Children’s Hospital. Julia referred to this team as, “The 12th floor kids,” otherwise known as the kids cancer patient floor. The time spent on this floor was full of heartache, unexpected gifts, growth, and blessings.
Julia shared how important it was for them to embrace their new team, and to grow their support network. “You have to find a network of other families going through the same thing you’re going through. They are out there and available to you.” Julia shared the importance of putting pride aside and allowing this new network of people to be there for her and her family. “It’s so much easier to give than to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask from those who are willing to give.”
During Jillian’s time on the floor, she learned to pass the time by the nurse’s rounds and YouTube videos. Jillian dove deep into videos and found a love and amusement for make-up tutorials, and family vlogs. One of her favorites is Jeffery Star. Jeffery’s eccentric and outlandish videos sparked inspiration and laughter. It turns out, says Jillian, “sometimes the best medicine is laughter.” During her time on the 12th floor she also learned she soon would be joining another team: Kent Smith Photography.
When Make-A-Wish reached out to Kent Smith Photography to help grant a YouTube inspired Wish, the team was all on board. Amanda, the lead photographer, followed in her mother and co-owner’s footsteps by becoming a Make-A-Wish Woman. In doing so, Amanda teamed up with Make-A-Wish to grant a Wish Recipient’s wish. Good to her word, at the studio Amanda prepared a magical day for Jillian. Jillian received new camera equipment from Make-A-Wish that Amanda helped her learn how to use. Amanda spent the afternoon photographing Jillian and her family in the camera room. Jillian was given the V.I.P. treatment, received full make-up and an outfit donated from her favorite clothing store, Buckle.
When asked about the Wish granting experience from Amanda’s vantage point, she had nothing but glowing remarks about Jillian. “When I first met Jillian, I noticed that she was a little shy. However, by far my favorite part of the day was seeing her eyes grow two times their size as she saw my camera lens and equipment. After that point I realized that the shy girl I initially met was long gone.” Amanda went on to describe how Jillian transformed into the best version of herself behind and in front of the camera. “I loved seeing her open up, laugh, and smile during her session. She was a natural and I would have believed her if she told me she was a model. She had the most beautiful smile and natural instincts in front of my lens.”
Jillian went on to walk the runway at our 2019 FashionFest event at Express Live where all the proceeds directly benefited other Wish Recipients. This created more opportunities to make more wishes like Jillian’s come true. It was an emotional night, but Jillian stole the show as she walked gracefully across the stage dressed head to toe in her Buckle outfit!
Jillian is the perfect reminder to us all that no matter what battles we face in life, they don’t define us. Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Jillian after our time apart and catch up with how she’s doing now.
Her fight with Osteosarcoma is still on going. Julia shared, “We live life in the normal day to day. There are still no answers or cures, but we just take each day as it comes, and we make the best of each day we are given.” Jillian shared some advice with us, and anyone going through something difficult in their lives as well. She said, “You just have to always keep going, no matter what.”
She also gave us some of her favorite type of medicine as we finished our call. “Why didn’t the Skeleton cross the road?” She asked; me clearly suppressing a giggle. “Because the skeleton didn’t have any guts!” She gleefully proclaimed. We found ourselves laughing along with Jillian and Julia as we realized two things. Sometimes humor is truly the best medicine. More importantly, the skeleton may not have had the guts to cross the road, but Jillian has the guts. Jillian will go the distance because at the end of the day, she’s a fighter.