Two sets of parents who lost sons to brain cancer last year were in the House chamber for the State of the Union speech when President Barack Obama announced his “new moonshot” effort to cure cancer.
One family’s pain and grief was well known to millions, the other’s heartache was known to a small, close-knit Illinois community a few miles north of St. Louis, a growing number of supporters on Facebook and their local congressman.
Joe and Jill Biden lost their son Beau to brain cancer in May. He was 46 and known around the world as an accomplished attorney, public figure and, some even said, possible future president.
John and Kimberly Wade lost their son Jonny, to brain cancer on Christmas Eve. He was 8, known in Jerseyville as a boy who loved fishing, the Cardinals, and as Jacky’s twin brother.
Joe and Jill Biden likely knew about the president’s announcement ahead of time; John and Kimberly Wade did not. They, along with Jacky, had gone to Washington as guests of Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, to promote “Project Team Jonny,” an effort to raise awareness about the need for increased funding for pediatric cancer research.
Kimberly has led that effort for much of the last year. In conversations with St. Louis Public Radio, both before and after the speech, she said they were simply “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support from members of Congress when they arrived at the Capitol. Then they became excited “about this new approach and the new mission of finding a cure for cancer.” Vice president Biden, will run “mission control” in that effort.
The Bidens and Wades don’t know each other - yet. Kimberly says she wants to reach out to Biden, and “hopefully visit with him over our same issue and pain, struggle and journey that our children have shared.” She wants to help Biden “for his son, my son … and so that other children don’t lose their lives, or have to struggle through cancer treatments.”
Friends in high places
While Kimberly and John were seated in the House gallery, directly across the chamber from the speaker’s rostrum, Jacky joined Rep. Davis, on the House floor, surrounded by dozens of lawmakers wearing “TEAM JONNY” wristbands.
But the moment he’ll likely remember most came moments before the president entered the House to deliver his speech.
Davis escorted his young friend through the crowd of representatives, senators, Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices, to meet the president, a fellow Illinoisan. Jacky shook Obama’s hand, got a couple of photos to take back to school; and Davis and the president spoke briefly about why Jacky was his guest for the evening.
The Cardinals and the congressman
Asked about how her family made contact with Davis, Kimberly says Davis’ office reached out to her. “They had heard the story of when Jonny and Jacky threw out the first pitch in St. Louis for the Cardinals” last July.
She said that Davis, who also has twins, called, befriended Jonny and visited with her family several times. Davis is a member of the Congressional Childhood Cancer Caucus and sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to members before the president’s speech, with the wristbands.
Kimberly, says Jonny liked Davis at lot. “Jonny had a good sense of knowing people’s heart very quickly, and he felt that Congressman Davis had a great heart.” She added, “He was spot on and I know that he’s pleased.”