Most people want to celebrate their 21st birthday by indulging with a few cocktails. But Bethany Jenkes, whose big day is Sunday, has another plan.
Her friend Katherine Martel, 14, was recently diagnosed with Neurocytoma, an uncommon cancer that causes brain tumors and impacts the nervous system. So, Bethany and her loved ones decided to hold a fundraiser at Filibuster Club at 23 High Street in Cumberland from noon to 8 p.m. to help with Katherine’s medical expenses.
“The doctors said it’s so rare that the chances of someone getting it are the same as winning Power Ball,” said Bethany’s mother Anne Marie Clancy.
Unfortunately, Katherine is unable to attend the event, as she is undergoing chemotherapy. Still, Bethany believes it will lift her spirits knowing people care.
“I think it will make Katherine feel better,” said Bethany, a 2009 graduate of Warwick Veterans High School. “And I’ve never had a big party before.”
The girls formed an instant bond in June when Anne Marie began dating Katherine’s father, Dennis “Goober” Martel. The girls spent the summer swimming and instant messaging on the computer.
Despite their age difference, Anne Marie said they are a perfect fit. Bethany has high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
“They can be around each other and not be uncomfortable,” said Anne Marie. “Katherine was nervous about going into high school but Bethany has already been through it so she was able to comfort her.”
Anne Marie thinks it’s special that Bethany wanted to hold the party in Katherine’s honor because it’s challenging for Bethany to be around a large crowd of people. She believes it’s a big step in Bethany’s advancement.
“She’s working on coping strategies to handle it,” Anne Marie said. “She’s bringing her [hand-held Nintendo] DS and a book to prepare herself. She’s really putting herself out there.”
Katherine was diagnosed shortly after she and Bethany grew close. At first, she suffered from intense headaches but then had a stroke and was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Boston. She spent 11 weeks there, six in a coma, before heading to Franciscan Rehabilitation Center, also in Boston, where she will visit three times a month for the next six months.
One of Katherine’s tumors has been removed, however, there are several more awaiting surgery.
“Her right side was paralyzed but now she’s walking with a walker,” Anne Marie said. “The doctors thought she would be on a tracheal tube the rest of her life.”
While Bethany misses Katherine, she’s been keeping busy doing some of her favorite activities such as shopping at Game Stop, volunteering at A Family Tree School Age Enrichment Program, LLC, a child care program spearheaded in 2007 by two local sisters, Erica Saccoccio and Christine Alexander, as well as babysitting her younger neighbors who are 10 and 8.
“They are exactly like me,” Bethany said. “We play the same games.”
Aside from playing video games, Bethany spends her time collecting DVD box sets. She recently saved babysitting money and bought the entire series of the popular NBC comedy, “Friends.”
“I like Rachel and Ross the best,” she said of the sitcom’s two characters.
In addition to “Friends,” Bethany is a fan of “Seventh Heaven” and “The George Lopez Show.” In fact, her original goal for her 21st birthday was to travel to California and see George Lopez live. When Anne Marie found out he was coming to the Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort in Conn. last spring, she purchased tickets.
Anne Marie joked that while the performance was surprisingly a bit raunchy and many of the jokes aimed towards adults confused Bethany, they still enjoyed the weekend. Bethany agreed with a giggle.
“I really didn’t know what was going on but I had a good time,” she said.
Bethany also likes listening to music by Big Time Rush, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus; reading magazines such as People, Us and OK; as well as coloring and doing word search puzzles.
“She gets the books and highlights the words,” said Clancy. “Every week we’re out buying new highlighters.”
For her birthday, she hopes to receive a Pillow Pet.
“She already asked me, ‘Can I have it that day? Can I bring it with me?’” said Anne Marie. “Of course I said, ‘Yes.’”
The event will feature karaoke in the afternoon and entertainment by the Narragansett-based band Uncle Funk later in the evening. Dinner will be fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and cranberry sauce, plus side dishes that guests will bring including pasta and salad.
Further, there will be raffles for items such as two tickets for a New England Patriots football game; a 42-inch television; gift baskets; and gift certificates from local restaurants and businesses.
They are hoping for a good turnout.
“We even invited the manager from Game Stop,” said Anne Marie.
Through planning the party, Anne Marie said she is proud of Bethany’s selflessness. She finds it admirable that her daughter is putting her own needs aside to help a friend.
“It makes me feel that I taught her to give instead of get,” said Clancy, who runs the food bank at St. Rita’s Church and often participates in clothing drives. “It’s really nice to give back. Dennis has been really good to Bethany and me. He’s a super dad and an amazing guy.”
But Anne Marie said she plans on making sure Bethany feels like a super star. After all, it is her birthday.
“She wants a tiara, balloons tied to her chair and a Disney princess cake,” Anne Marie said.
Tickets are $20 per adult and $10 for children and can be purchased at the door or in advanced by contacting Anne Marie at 401-219-6491 or by calling Linda Quattrucci (Dennis’ sister) at 401-4225, Sharon Gobin at 401-626-2665 or Bruce Martel at 401-617-6413.