If you traveled past Nardolillo Funeral Home in Cranston last week, you may have been surprised to see a pink rescue truck with the “RI Pink Heals” in front of the funeral home adorned with a memorial ribbon. The truck was named “Jenna” for 9-year-old Jenna Belle Jacques, who succumbed to brain cancer last week on July 6.
Jenna was diagnosed with a plum-sized brain tumor last year. Jenna survived for approximately 16 months since her diagnosis. She died surrounded by her parents, Heather and Phillip Jacques and her two brothers, Jayson and her twin Philip, along with others who sat by Jenna’s bedside for weeks.
It was the first time RI Pink Heals, which supports all women with cancer, named one of their pink vehicles in the name of someone living and in the name of a child. In March, for the first time in the Northeast, the organization of firefighters and police officers dedicated a pink rescue truck, and Jenna and her family members signed the bright pink rescue.
“She’s very remarkable,” RI Pink Heals President Ted Dion said at the ceremony. “She’s inspirational.”
Knowing the end was coming too soon, I was afraid to check Facebook. I had been following her ups and downs for months. I met Jenna twice while covering two separate events in our area. I became attached to her, as we both shared one thing in common; a battle with cancer. Her smile melted me as we talked for a bit. I found out about her passing on a Facebook by her mother, Heather Jacques. She wrote, “She is gone.” I cried. Jenna may have only made it to the 3rd grade, but she taught a lot of adults and other children how to face a devastating disease with grace, strength and courage.
I battled breast cancer in 2006. I was an adult facing cancer and Jenna was just a child. In a single conversation with Jenna at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet while covering a RI Pink Heals event, I shared with Jenna about my cancer survival and encouraged her to keep fighting. She replied, “I will,” with a smile on her face.
There were some bright spots for Jenna as her cancer was in remission. People rallied around her and her family, providing services, donations and support. Early in her battle, the local organization Fighting For A Chance teamed up with the Amos House Carpentry Training Program to build a wheel chair ramp at the Jacques’ home. Jenna was weakened after the brain tumor was removed and she was unable to walk on her own.
This past June, Make A Wish helped Jenna meet her idol, Justin Bieber. Jenna had changed her wish from going to Disney World to meeting Bieber. With only a few days notice, the 9-year-old and her family were on the way to Oslo, Norway, where Bieber was performing, to meet with Beiber. He talked with her and even kissed her on the cheek. A recent television story about Bieber opened up with the segment of Jenna meeting him.
A letter to Jenna posted on Facebook by her mother, Heather Jacques, read in part:
“My daughter is the bravest female I have ever come across in my 32 years. She came into this fight against cancer with her boxing gloves on, rocking back and fourth like Rocky Marciano. She went toe to toe with cancer and beat the shit out of it. She may have passed but in my heart and mind she has won…Now that Jenna isn’t physically here with us, I understand. The treatments, the puking, the infections, hair falling out and the broken heart, I would do it all over again so I could have the honor of knowing such a special, beautiful little girl.”
Jacques continued, “Walking this journey has been some of the worst experiences of my life. We have watched our daughter suffer. Anything that could have gone wrong did. I have watched her cry because she just wanted to be a normal kid, go outside and play with her brothers or go to school. Do you know how hard it is to console a child that is sick? They are sick, not stupid. You can’t just say, ‘You are normal’ or something like that, especially not to Jenna. She is wise beyond her years. I have listened to her ask “Why me?” I have asked that question probably a million times and still have no answer to offer. I had apologized to her over and over for not being able to answer that question.”
I learned from her that no matter what your age, or your size, you need to face your challenges head on and give it all you got. Her family and friends and the RI Pink Heals meant everything to Jenna. Members of the RI Pink Heals would visit her at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, even babysitting her dolls as she rested.
“Jenna has simply changed from a force to bring and hold us together, to a guiding star in the sky. Let’s bring her love onto others, let’s crusade for children, let’s be grateful for the lessons we have learned,” said Ted Dion.