GREER, S.C. (WSPA) – Earlier this year Alyssa Jones, daughter of Riverside Girls Basketball Coach Bri Jones, was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Since then she’s been fighting a battle no child should have to endure. But with her family and community behind her, Alyssa’s reminded she’s not alone.
“It makes me feel like people are praying for me and it makes me feel happy, too,” Jones said.
The community support is what drives Alyssa and her family after their world was turned upside down when they received word of her diagnosis in January.
“After the words of ‘your daughter does have Leukemia,’ your whole world shuts down,” her mother, Bri, said. “…our whole world is about to change, but you have to find out a way to tell a 7-year-old that she has cancer.”
Bri Jones had to temporarily leave the girls basketball program mid-season to play her most important role as a supportive mother to Alyssa.
“We told her how much we love her, and I told her that ‘you’re going to have a hard time and it’s going to be a long fight, but we’re gonna be brave and we’re gonna do this all together.’”
Alyssa has turned 8 since the diagnosis, and has undergone months of treatment in what’s expected to be a two and a half year battle. But she’s approaching the fight with courage.
“When I go to the clinic I get two pokes, one in my arm and one in my port,” said Alyssa. “I’m really brave and when I do it I don’t even make a peep.”
She also made a friend during her hospital visits: a happy, fluffy dog named ‘King.’
Alyssa’s strength is also exemplified in her support for her siblings as they too deal with adversity. Her older brother Eli has Eosinophilic Esophagitis, and her younger 3-year-old brother Beckett has down syndrome.
“…I’m like his little momma,” Alyssa said of Beckett. “We play together with my Barbies and his little toys…and Eli plays basketball with me and plays sometimes with my stuffed animals with me, too.”
“Eli has had a hospital life,” Bri said. “In and out, in and out. And then Alyssa came along, so Alyssa’s always been the supporter for Eli.”
“She’s my sister and she always hugs me,” Alyssa’s brother Eli said. “I don’t want her to go to the hospital, I just want her to stay here and play with me.”
“Now that Alyssa’s the one that has the cancer, Eli has reached out and become a protector for her and takes care of her,” Bri said. “And [he] tries to encourage her.”
A strong support system at home quickly extended to an entire community. Riverside high school PTA President Stephanie Wright helped set up the Alyssa Against ALL Facebook page. Today it has over 1,300 members.
“It’s opened so many doors and the support and just the comfort of knowing that many people are loving and supporting Alyssa and our family is so overwhelming,” Bri added.
Outside support has come in many forms, including a brand new custom golf cart to help Alyssa get around efficiently. On top of that, shirts were sold to help with medical bills. And even the basketball team created special pregame apparel.
“She’s our biggest fan and we played every game in that season for her,” said Riverside sophomore basketball player Caitlin Cunningham. “We got new shooting shirts that said ‘Alyssa Against ALL’ on the back. We wore these shirts senior night. Everything was about Alyssa after that point.”
“They’re just so joyful to be around and I just love being with them,” added Cunningham’s teammate, Natalie Thompson. “And they would always come in here, either on the weekends if we had weekend practices or shootarounds, they would always be here. Or them riding the bus with us.”
Most recently, Alyssa’s classmates at Brushy Creek Elementary wanted to help as well. So they held a week-long fundraiser, including a personal parade for Alyssa mid-April.
“It means that I’m special and that they know about me and they’re praying for me,” said Alyssa.
Efforts have helped raise roughly $2,000 for the Jones family. And whether they go online, or take a trip to the grocery store, they’re constantly reminded that the community has their back.
“It’s so surreal as a parent to see the community walking around with shirts with your child on it,” Bri said. “[Alyssa] said ‘mom that is so cool that they love me and want to help me get better.’”
“Everybody wears a shirt like this because they’re praying for me and they love me,” Alyssa said.
She’s also received support through the Bella Muntean Angel Heart of Hope Ministry, an organization dedicated to the memory of the former Riverside High School student who died from cancer at the age of 15 in 2018.
Since then the school has held fundraisers in her honor, and they’ve raised $78,000 during the school’s ‘spirit week.’ Alyssa received a doll, her favorite one, as part of the outreach.
“It’s been really special to me because this doll helps me remember Bella,” said Alyssa.
To join Alyssa’s Facebook page, click here.
For more information on the Bella Muntean Angel Heart of Hope Ministry, click here.