Career, Leadership, Education,
By Jill McMillan
Jonny Wade came into my life when I was searching for something… something far greater than myself, something with meaning and purpose. That something and someone that would change my life forever.
It was January 2015. I was struggling to keep it together. My career had consumed me… No time for my marriage, my family, my friends, my faith. My priorities were completely off and I felt like I had lost my purpose. My 5-year-old twin boys barely saw me because of the travel I was doing for work. It was heartbreaking… I wanted to get back on track and didn't know where to begin. I was lost and had been for years.
I decided to start attending a local Catholic church by myself. I was raised Catholic, but my husband and I had been occasionally attending a non-denominational church. I started going to mass most Friday mornings and as God moved through my heart I could feel myself changing, but I was still searching for a purpose.
Late one night in January, I was browsing on Facebook and I saw a post from shared by a friend about a family she knew who also had twin boys. It was a frantic request for prayers from someone named Kimberly Wade and a picture of a little boy who had just gotten out of brain surgery. I immediately felt a connection. I began following her posts, and learned that Jonny and his twin brother Jackson (Jacky) were seven years old and in first grade. A week before Christmas, Jonny had a headache at school. Eight days later, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Everything about this heartbreaking story stopped me in my tracks. I reached out to Kimberly on Facebook, and told her I also had twin boys and felt like I was on this journey with her. I asked her if I could pray for Jonny and if there was any way I could help.
Twin brothers Jacky and Jonny.
What happened over the next few months is hard to describe. I was falling in love with a sweet angel named Jonny who was changing my life and bringing me closer to my faith. I was developing a beautiful friendship with his mother Kimberly, who has become a forever friend. All of this was happening through Facebook messenger… we were strangers, but the undeniable connection between the two of us was so strong… I could feel God tugging at me to help this family and share this story.
Kimberly continued to share stories of Jonny fighting, enduring countless surgeries, feeding tubes, radiation burns, daily nausea and unending fatigue. Jonny’s love for Jesus and his faith never wavered. In fact, many of Kimberly’s posts included stories of Jonny thanking God for his illness and praising Him through the pain. While Jonny was sharing his faith with thousands of people from all over the world, Kimberly was sharing the reality of pediatric cancer. It was raw, incredibly emotional, and oh so real to me.
Kimberly and Jonny Wade.
Throughout this terrible journey, Jonny gained almost 70,000 Facebook followers. I realized I wasn’t the only one in love with this sweet angel, as he was touching the lives of THOUSANDS from all over the world. Kimberly continued to share photos of Jonny’s crippling pain, anxiety and fear related to death, and I grew closer and closer to this family. Months had passed and I realized I had changed, thanks to Jonny. He had showed me what it means to really live and love with your whole heart. He showed me what is important in life and just how precious it is. I switched from full-time to part-time and now spend more time with my family. This sweet little boy, who I’d never met, was that SOMETHING I had been looking for and needed so desperately in my life.
Jonny died in his parents’ arms on Christmas Eve 2015, only 363 days after his diagnosis. The news broke me. I loved this child like one of my own. My husband and I traveled to Jerseyville, Illinois after Christmas and I attended Jonny’s funeral. It was the first time I got to see Jonny and meet Kimberly. It was a moment I will hold with me for the rest of my life. It took God 363 days to change my heart and my life… thanks to Jonny. I told myself right then that I would do anything to help Jonny’s legacy live on and help the families fighting this terrible disease.
“I don’t want any other kid to have cancer,” he told his mother before he passed away. I vowed to forever work to fulfill his wish. Kimberly asked me to be a board member for what soon became the Kids Shouldn’t Have Cancer Foundation in Memory of Jonny Wade. This gave me the purpose I had been looking for. I now have a handful of other board members that I’m honored to call family. We have all vowed to eradicate this disease and increase the very small percent (4%) that goes towards pediatric cancer research.
Kimberley and Jill at a Kids Shouldn't Have Cancer Foundation event.
Through this, we came to believe that while thousands of people prayed for a miracle to heal Jonny, Jonny himself was the miracle to me and to so many others. He healed thousands by showing the strength of his faith in the midst of his weakness, and the Kids Shouldn’t Have Cancer Foundation exists solely to carry on this purpose.
No one should have to go through what Jonny and his family did – and we’re trying to help make that possible. We are devoted to conquering pediatric cancer through research and political action, with emphasis on responsible spending. We are united behind Jonny’s wish.
Let’s end pediatric cancer together and make Jonny’s wish come true. Please visit our website www.kshcf.org for more information.
Racing in memory of Jonny.
About the Author
Jill and Monica have been friends for 20 years. She is a great friend and always had one of the biggest hearts. She is a go-getter and she is always burning the candle at both ends. One night she fell in love with a little boy she never got to meet, who changed her life for the better. This is her story.
Over the years, I have read way too many leadership articles and attended numerous training classes on how to be a better leader / A Better Version of Myself. On the basis - If you do not change – you will never be successful or a great leader.
Over time I did become a better MANAGER – I learned how to captivate an audience with a riveting presentation, deliver transformational business results and command a room with my black suits and intensity. I achieved success I never imagined (more on that another time).
At the same time my husband and I were growing our family, and ultimately, I got lost in the “busy-ness” of being a wife, mom, daughter, friend and boss. These responsibilities demanded my daily attention and provided me with society’s definition of “success” YET I began to drift into someone I did not recognize. My spirit began to fade, my confidence eroded and my leadership (not management) weakened as I tried to fit into this box I created.
Merriam-Webster definition of authentic is: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character; is sincere and authentic with no pretensions!
Choose any great leaders that has changed the world and you will see – they all have passion, spirit and are true to the very essence of their character. I was hit with this realization: When you are trying to be someone you are not – people can sense it. And, while you might increase your IG followers, you will never be a great leader, never change the world and never find internal peace.
So internet world here are the questions I am asking myself to reconnect with the spirit of my character: