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FBC Jacksonville, community surround family of 12-year-old battling cancercomment (0)

May 14, 2009

By Megan Norris Jones

Six months after her mother died of breast cancer, 11-year-old Megan Brittain was diagnosed with cancer. It was rhabdomyosarcoma — a soft-tissue cancer. That was July 2007.

Megan is now 12 years old and a sixth-grader at Kitty Stone Elementary School in Jacksonville, and she’s soaking up every moment of life with the support and love of her family and faith community.

The Brittains’ church — First Baptist, Jacksonville — has rallied around them through their years of illness. First it was Megan’s mother, Sharon, and now it is Megan. The congregation also ministered to the family when Megan’s father, Gary, who serves as campus minister at Jacksonville State University’s Baptist Campus Ministry, suffered a heart attack in February.

“I’d give anything if my daughter didn’t have to go through this and my brave wife didn’t have to,” Gary Brittain said. “But if Megan has to go through this, then I’m going to walk through it with her.”

But he is not walking alone — literally or figuratively. The community in Jacksonville and beyond not only is joining in prayer for the Brittain family but also joined the walk to raise money for cancer research with two Team Megans in Calhoun County’s Relay for Life on May 8.

In March, the Magic Moments Foundation, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization dedicated to granting wishes for children with medical conditions, gave the Brittain family — Megan, her dad and two older brothers, Bradley, 15, and Ian, 19 — a trip to Orlando, Fla.

And thanks to First, Jacksonville, the family had another big surprise in store when it returned home.

It all started when Gary Brittain mentioned to a neighbor that he needed to replace the linoleum in his kitchen. While the family was in Orlando, volunteers from the Calhoun Baptist Association church replaced the floor, kitchen counters and sink. And they didn’t stop there.

Over the course of a week, church members put up crown molding in the dining and living rooms; brought in new furniture for Megan’s room, a flat-screen TV for Bradley’s room and a recliner; and hung new window treatments in the house. They spruced up the landscaping outside as well. Local businesses got in on the act, providing discounts on items and donating them, too.

“It was really fun for our folks,” said Pastor Derek Staples. “Gary has been through a lot, and there’s a lot of folks in our church who’ve wanted to do something, and for them, it was a way to serve.”

One of the ways the Brittains keep in touch with their large community of friends and supporters is through CaringBridge.org, which lets people set up a personalized Web page with an online journal, photo albums and a guestbook to stay connected to loved ones during a time of illness.

So far, Megan’s site — www.caringbridge.org/visit/meganbrittain — has had 475,546 visits and 10,294 notes left in the guestbook. Gary Brittain said CaringBridge allows the family to manage the volume of concern for Megan without becoming overwhelmed.

It was on CaringBridge that he shared the difficult news from Megan’s doctors that her cancer is not curable. “My faith in Jesus tells me that when the time comes, my daughter will be with her Lord,” he wrote. “Death will be but a transition to a place where there will be no more sickness, sorrow or pain. She will see her mom, her nana and meet her granddaddy for the first time. But the best part is that she will see her Savior.”

Meanwhile there is a lot of living to do. May 4 was declared Megan Elizabeth Brittain Day in Jacksonville. The Sunday before, her church planned a Walking to Win Day in Megan’s honor with everyone wearing Team Megan T-shirts. “People keep asking, ‘What can we do for you?’ And the main thing I tell them is to pray,” Gary Brittain said.

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