Seven-year-old Javon Bass walks through the doors of Ronald McDonald House of Memphis, clasping two-year-old Jakayla’s delicate hand. Jakayla has just been diagnosed with Leukemia and is about to embark on the fight of her young life. Javon is there to keep holding her hand – to keep giving her strength.

To Jakayla, Javon is not only her protective older brother, he’s her hero. Because he’s been there and has fought a foe called Leukemia before. And he won. Javon assures his little sister, “with Mom and me by your side, you’ll beat it too.”

Jakayla is the third one in her family to have been diagnosed and to have received treatments for Leukemia at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Both her mother, Lisa, and her brother, Javon, are survivors of the disease.  

Back in 1985, Lisa was in and out of St. Jude’s as a little girl, receiving life-saving treatments. At the time, Ronald McDonald House of Memphis was still six years away from being built, so she and her family had to stay at a hotel.

“It wasn’t fun,” Lisa explains. “The lights were dim and the rooms were bare. There were no activities; no other patients to play with; no comfort of family or friends. I already felt different from other kids who didn’t understand my bald head, but actually being isolated from the ones who did, made it even worse. It’s one thing to be sick. It’s another thing to be sick and to feel alone.”

Almost 20 years later, when her two-year-old son Javon was diagnosed with Leukemia, Lisa learned that there was a program that could make the hospital stays, the long treatments and the stressful news easier. She learned about the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis, a home where St. Jude patients and their families could stay free of charge while they got better.  

“I remember when we first walked up to the House, Javon said ‘Look, mom,’ pointing to a sign next to the door. ‘It says Welcome Home,’” Lisa remembered. “I realized that’s what my family and I were missing back in 1985, that feeling of home.”

Lisa and Javon stayed at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis for four months. They met families from other parts of the world and from across the United States. “Together, we helped one another bear the weight of having a child with cancer,” she said.

Remembering her own insecurity as a five year old with a bald head, Lisa was happy to see Javon in a place where shaved heads, wheelchairs and medical face masks were the norm. “Here, kids with cancer can be comfortable around other kids. At Ronald McDonald House, they can forget about their differences and just play like normal kids.”

The family’s journey didn’t end though after Javon and Lisa were able to go home. Next, two-year old Jakayla was diagnosed with Leukemia and the family once again packed their bags and headed to Memphis for treatment.

Although her children share her determined spirit, Lisa knows that they also have something else to aid them in their fight – the Ronald McDonald House. There, Javon and now Jakayla have an army of 50 other families, helping them overcome serious illness.

Although, Jakayla finished her treatments in 2010, in February of 2012, she relapsed. Now six years old, she is back at the House with her family – still fighting, but still able to do her favorite things: dancing, playing with dolls and painting her nails.  

“This is our fifth time going through this,” said Lisa. “It’s been hard. But we’ve seen so many miracles happen at Ronald McDonald House throughout the years, it gives us the faith we need to get through.”