As family faces cancer, Lions invite your help

Rhonda Higgins and son Jacob Higgins, 15. Photo by Larry “Bud” Meyer
Rhonda Higgins and son Jacob Higgins, 15. Photo by Larry “Bud” Meyer

Jacob Higgins’ plans for a teen’s normal summer – working on his go-kart, hanging out with his cousin, climbing trees – took a back seat when a June diagnosis of leukemia began a long and frightening ordeal.

Though his form of leukemia is treatable, the road to recovery will be long and costly for the soft-spoken young man with a big smile. Jacob, 15, faces four intensive rounds of chemotherapy in Fairfax through the end of the year followed by two years of maintenance at home. Meanwhile, his mother Rhonda and father David Hilliard face mounting costs as bills accumulate for prolonged hospital stays, travel, food and sanitizing the family home on Keyser Run.

Bob Chapell (left) and members of the Turkey Ridge Band perform at Friday's fundraiser.
Bob Chapell (left) and members of the Turkey Ridge Band perform at Friday’s fundraiser.

You can help out Jacob and his family from 6-8 p.m., Friday evening, Sept. 7 by attending a fundraiser put on by the Rappahannock County Lions Club, the Turkey Ridge String Band and Gadino Cellars.

For a suggested $15 contribution ($25 per couple, $10 for ages 16 and under; $35 per family), you can enjoy bluegrass music, sumptuous heavy appetizers donated by the Lions Club and community members, as well as the rolling Gadino Cellars’ grounds on Schoolhouse Road. Ten percent of wines sold and all contributions for this family-friendly event will go toward the Jacob Walter Higgins Fund at Union First Market Bank. Non-alcoholic beverages will be available.

Rhonda Higgins noticed something wasn’t right with her normally healthy son at the beginning of his summer break from school when he complained of headaches, body aches and nausea. She took him to Warrenton’s Piedmont Family Practice to see Dr. Ash Diwan for blood tests and X-rays on June 23. Jacob was admitted the next day at Inova Fairfax Hospital where a diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, was confirmed.

Initial treatments lasted six weeks, complicated by high fevers and side effects from chemotherapy. His mother, currently unemployed, traveled back and forth to Fairfax, staying at times at Ronald McDonald House with her son.

Jacob came back to Rappahannock this month for a short stay until the second round of treatments resumed this Monday (Aug. 20). The family’s home is in the midst of a makeover to create an appropriately sterile environment for recovery.

“It’s been hard,” said Jacob, wearing a white mask sitting on the family’s couch. “But I’ve gotten a lot of help. I like the nurses; they’re really nice. Other people have been nice, too, sending letters and emails.”

The hardest part? “Sitting still.”

Jacob’s grandparents, Betty and Charlie Hilliard, former Slate Mills residents now in Chester Gap, are former Lions Club members. Betty’s father, Walter Stout, helped found the Lions Club in Sterling, Va. Through Lions friends, word of Jacob’s plight reached Lion Bob Chappell, former school superintendent and member of the Turkey Ridge ensemble. He took the idea to Lions President Bill Gadino and the idea for the fundraiser was hatched.

“The Lions Club jumped in, which I think is absolutely wonderful,” said Betty Hilliard. “The Lions Club stepped up to do things not just for our family but for many others as well.”

“I hope the community will come out to support this young man and his family in their time of need,” said Chappell.

During treatments, Jacob will continue his ninth-grade studies as part of the Homebound Project; otherwise he hopes to attend classes at Rappahannock County High School. His favorite subject: Math. His interests: The great outdoors, travel and tinkering with his go-kart’s engine.

“He’s very talented,” said his mother. “He has the ability to fix just about anything.”

Contributions can be made to The Jacob Walter Higgins Fund at Union First Market Bank, Box 179, Washington, Va., 22747. Support recently came from contributions collected at the Hazzard Homecoming.

Married 16 years ago, Rhonda Higgins said she moved to Rappahannock from Rockville, Md., seven years ago. She teared up describing the unexpected outpouring of kindness from the local community.

“I grew up in the city,” she said. “The compassion we’ve felt, the love and care of the people here in the country, their warmth, well it just means so much. It’s made the pain a lot more bearable.”

Larry “Bud” Meyer is a Rappahannock Lions Club member.