Seven-year-old Javon Bass walks through the doors of Ronald McDonald House of Memphis clasping two-year-old Jakayla's hand. Jakayla has just been diagnosed with Leukemia and is about to embark on the fight of her young life. Javon is there to cover her.
For Jakayla, Javon is not just her protective older brother, he's her hero. He's been here and fought this foe before, and won. He is convinced that with her family by her side, his sister will do the same.
Last February, Jakayla relapsed. Now six years old, she is back in Memphis with her family – still fighting, yet able to maintain her love of dancing, playing with dolls and nail polish.
"This is our fifth time going through this," said Jakayla and Javon's mom, 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."
If the will to survive cancer can be passed along, then Javon and Jakayla inherited it from their mother, who began her own battle with childhood leukemia in 1985.
"It's one thing to be sick," Lisa said. "It's another thing to be sick and to feel alone."
When Lisa arrived in Memphis in 1985, Ronald McDonald House of Memphis was still six years away from being built.
"A lot of people don't know that St. Jude is an outpatient hospital. We would go there for treatment, but we didn't stay there 24/7," Lisa recalled. Instead, Lisa, her mother and other St. Jude families stayed in hotels.
"Living in a hotel was not fun. 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." Lisa said. "I already felt isolated from other kids who didn't understand my bald head, but actually being isolated from the kids who did understand me made it even worse."
In 2003, Lisa was back in Memphis, this time with her then two-year-old son Javon, who had been diagnosed with leukemia.
"I remember when we first walked up to the house, Javon said 'Look, mom,' pointing to a sign next to the door. It said 'Welcome Home,'" Lisa remembered. "I realized then that's what I was missing back in 1985, that feeling of home."
Lisa and Javon's Memphis stay lasted 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 the ups and downs of having a child with cancer," Lisa said. "Here, kids with cancer can be comfortable around other kids and not wonder if someone is whispering about them. At Ronald McDonald House, they can forget about that and just play like normal kids."
Lisa and Javon stayed in touch with their new acquaintances. "We would call each other just like family," she said.
Today, Javon has won his own battle against cancer three times. He is now a fifth-grader who loves video games and girls.
"Javon and Jakayla have grown up with us," said Ronald McDonald House of Memphis Director of House Operations Sherri Maxey.
"Their mother Lisa is by far one of the strongest people I have ever met. Her family is inspiring to us all. Other families look at them and it gives them strength to fight their own fight."