BY QUINTON R. ARTHUR
LANSING, Ill. (February 19, 2023) – On February 4, 5-year-old Joy Arseneau took her last pill for cancer treatments. On February 7, she rang a bell to signify that she has completed the course of treatment and the next chapter of her life can begin.
Internationally, February 4 is recognized as World Cancer Day, a day to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. Nikki and Jordan Arseneau, Joy’s parents, remember each and every moment since their daughter was first diagnosed with leukemia.
A day to remember
According to the National Cancer Institute, “leukemia” is a broad term for cancer of the blood cells. It occurs most often in adults older than 55, but it is also the most common cancer in children younger than 15.
Just a few weeks after her third birthday in October 2020, Joy developed a fever. In addition to the fever, Nikki Arseneau noticed Joy was more tired and was saying she was cold. The fever persisted a few days, and Joy was taken to her pediatrician, where she was given a variety of tests, which detected nothing.
However, 10 days later, Joy still had a fever that was getting higher. The next day, the family went back to the pediatrician, and Joy took a test that included blood samples.
Nikki and Jordan Arseneau remember the exact moment when they first received the news.
On November 9, 2020 at 2:30 p.m., they got a call back from the doctor and were told to immediately go to Comer’s Children Hospital because there were abnormalities in Joy’s blood.
At 8 p.m., after another series of test, the doctor officially diagnosed Joy with leukemia.
“We didn’t imagine that it would be cancer,” said Nikki.
The night Joy was diagnosed, Nikki — who is the director of the Learning Resource Center at Memorial Jr. High School — contacted Dr. Keli Ross, the principal of Memorial, who sent an email to all staff informing them of the news. Staff immediately reached out to the Arseneau family with encouraging texts and phone calls. The school began to raise money to help pay for Joy’s medicine and some staff started wearing “JoyStrong” bracelets in support.
The Arseneaus also received love and aid from their family, friends, Homewood community, and church — South Suburban Vineyard Church in Flossmoor — led by Pastors Geno and Shannon Olison.
Local organizations also helped support the family, including Helmets for Cody, an organization started by the Ziemkowski family in Lansing. The Ziemkowskis reached out to members of Lansing community to donate Christmas presents for Joy after they found out about the situation.
Korey Ziemkowski, founder of Girl in Lansing, and the creator of micro-pantries across Lansing and surrounding areas, dedicated the food pantry at InnerMission Neighborhood Farm in Hammond, IN to Joy. Ziemkowski also organized a mobile blood drive in partnership with Versiti Blood Center in 2021 in honor of Joy.
The Homewood chapter of Project Firebuddies, an organization of firefighters which offers support and gives back to children fighting critical illnesses, were instrumental as well. They provided Joy gifts on special occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays, and allowed the family to visit the fire department.
According to Jordan Arseneau, The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation came through in a critical moment. During the process of Joy’s treatments, the heat in the home went out, with a very high estimate to repair the system. The Arseneaus reached out to the organization and received a grant which covered a new HVAC system and new duct work.
“It was one of those fall to your knees moments, just thanking God and thanking the organization,” said Nikki.
The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization founded by New York Yankees first baseman — and former Chicago Cubs player — Anthony Rizzo. The mission of the organization is to raise money for cancer research and to provide support to children and their families battling the disease.
“It was amazing, just the amount of support and love that we felt,” Nikki said.
As direct recipients of many organizations’ philanthropy, both Jordan and Nikki Arseneau agree that the best way for the community to support now is by donating to organizations that support families battling cancer.
Paying it forward
Nikki and Jordan’s experience walking with their daughter through chemotherapy has given them a unique perspective, and resulted in some advice for families in similar situations.
“We immediately start looking at our DNA and family background and start to wonder about radiation in our phones or what she was eating. The truth is that is nobody’s fault. Do not judge yourself too harshly,” Jordan said.
“Take everything day by day, moment by moment. Try to be in the present as much as you can,” Nikki said.
Though Joy’s family continues to closely monitor her side effects, the Arseneaus are thankful for the end of the chapter that Joy’s bell-ringing signifies, and hopeful for their daughter’s future.
- Helmets for Cody donates over $40,000 worth of toys to local hospitalized kids (December 20, 2022)
- Five-year-old Cannon Walsh draws Lansing’s support as family fights rare, incurable disease (October 20, 2022)
- ‘Girl in Lansing’ starts another micro pantry – this one at the Lansing Library (September 23, 2022)