By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The face that has inspired a family, a school, a community, a city and countless others needed a moment to rest last Friday morning.
Millington Middle School student Cassy Conglula’s bright, infectious smile has become a source of inspiration to many through St. Jude posters, Fox 13 News commercials and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Cassy, who was diagnosed with Glioblastoma stage IV (GMB) on Sept. 7, 2014, not only took on the challenge of battling the disease, but she also accepted the responsibility to be a voice and face for awareness of childhood cancers. Right by her side throughout the ordeal has been her friends and family including her mother and father Joanna and Adam Blankenship.
“It’s been tough,” Blankenship said. “It’s been a roller coaster of emotions. It’s not something you expect. She was just having a headache. We went and I was thinking mentigitious. You’re never thinking brain cancer. It was very hard as a parent getting that diagnosis. Of course you think of cancer and you think of the bad.
“It’s been good and it’s been bad,” she continued. “We’ve had positive and we’ve had negative. The negative of course was the diagnosis. Then her losing her hair was big for her. We prepared her but for a young girl that was very hard. We thought we prepared her but it was hard for her. And it was hard for us seeing her crying as she was losing her hair. Then of course the stuff she had to go through like the radiation. She went through six weeks of radiation and that burned her back. It’s like sunburn but 10 times worse.”
Cassy still endures painful days when she just feels like wrapping herself up in a warm blanket to lay on the couch in her family room.
Her rest is necessary from treatments but sometimes she needs a break from being a source of inspiration.
“Some days she just wanted to lie in bed and not move because it hurt so bad,” Blankenship recalled. “That’s very tough on you as a parent seeing your child lay there suffering and there’s nothing you can do for the pain.
“The positive, I would say she has inspired a lot of people,” she continued. “Some of them she doesn’t even know. We have family that now goes to church. That’s her main goal. She said she wants to see people be saved and trust in God not just during the bad times. But trust Him during the good times as well. Other positives have been our community’s support, our church’s support and her friends. We’re beyond words all of the support we’ve received. We’re blessed.”
Through the radiation, chemo and medicine, Cassy has remained a solid student, active member at Crosspointe Baptist Church, and role model for her brothers Matthew Colunga and Aidan Blankenship.
Blankenship said her daughter has always kept other first no matter how much she was suffering.
“It overwhelms my heart just to know how inspiring she is to others,” she said. “She’s even inspiring to me. As a mother it’s hard and I cry and I’m sad. And sometimes I’m angry. But to see her stay positive and have so much faith to know she’s going to be ok, that inspires me.”
Blankenship has watched her daughter endure imaginable pain with grace and her trademark smile.
“It is a constant battle for her type of cancer, there’s no cure out there,” she said. “They told us that and that’s very hard to take that as a parent because they tell you there’s not a cure. You’re hoping, ‘Oh well we’re going to go here and cure it.’ They did tell us there’s not a cure and that it is very aggressive. You’re never prepared for that news. You’ll probably never prepared.
“Every time we go in for a scan, you’re nervous no matter if she’s been stable,” Blankenship added. “A cancer parent is always going to be worried about the scan. Now the diagnosis we’ve got, they said 6 months. She’s always wanted to know. We’ve been honest with her the entire time. She always wanted to know, so we told her. But we told her we didn’t want her to look at it as dates or months. We were just going to enjoy every day and just keep her happy. Not look at it as, ‘Oh, I only have so much left.’”
With doctors giving Cassy six month to live, Blankenship said she will add to the faith her baby girl has displayed the past year and half and trust in a Higher Power.
Blankenship said she will also cherish every moment with her Cassy. Knowing her situation, the community and Blankenship’s colleagues at Millington Central High School have rallied for the family.
Team Cassy is more than a Facebook page, wrist band or catchy phrase on a St. Jude Marathon shirt. Team Cassy has been the rally cry for all those who love the girl who turned 14 on January 15.
“It got started by friends and family and all the people there to support her and children battling cancer,” Blankenship said. “We’ve gone to St. Jude with their wonderful doctors and staff. We’ve been raising money, doing events like the marathon and bringing awareness.
Blankenship, alongside several friends and family members, completed the 2015 St. Jude marathon with an injured knee. What kept her going was thoughts of her daughter always fighting. Cassy’s motivation has been words of encouragement, scriptures, poster and pictures from classmates and church members. Some people who have been inspired by her media campaign have reached out to the teenager.
Also keeping her spirit up has been her family showering Cassy with love. In the forefront has been her mother.
Having to take time off from her job to care for Cassy, her colleagues at MCHS have raised money to make sure she doesn’t have to worry about expenses.
“It helps not to be thinking of that financial burden anymore,” Blankenship said. “I can think about getting her healthy. It helps me because I’m able to stay here and care for her because we don’t know what time will bring. I’m able to spend these special moments with her. It touches my heart that they’ll do that for us.”
The latest fund raising effort started Feb. 1 by the MCHS family with the Month of Love. The activities are Cut Out Hearts, Candy Grams and Team Cassy Buttons for sale. And donations can be made for Team Cassy at Patriot Bank Millington.
“She doesn’t just want this journey to be I fought cancer,” Blankenship said. “She wants to inspire other kids in her situation going through the same thing. She wants to inspire others to keep fighting and never give up. She hopes she inspires parents to enjoy time with their children.
“Spend every minute you can. We can get busy caught up in life,” she concluded. “I’m guilty of it before this getting caught up with life, work and school. I learn what is most important to me — family. We’ve now learned to enjoy every moment with each other.”
For more information on the fund raisers or to donate to Team Cassy, call 873-8100.