Community Support Outpours for Redbank Student with Rare Form of Cancer
There have been two t-shirt sales, a spaghetti dinner, a bake sale, an animal themed “Claws for a Cause” event, a golf outing, and a GoFundMe campaign. There will also be a show featuring a nationally recognized illusionist and a wing eating contest in the coming weeks.
While fundraising in a small town such as Newbie is not a new phenomenon, all of the causes listed above have sought to raise funds for a very specific and special purpose.
The New Bethlehem community has been hard at work alongside one of their own, supporting Cassie Westover, and her courageous battle with cancer.
Cassie is currently a junior at Redbank Valley High School and at the end of her sophomore school year, she began receiving a battery of tests for what she and her family thought was allergy or sinus issues.
What doctor’s discovered, however, was a massive tumor that started behind her nose, filled her sinuses, and broke through the base of her skull.
Esthesioneuroblastoma would become a word that the Westover family would soon become all too familiar with. Characterized as a cancer of the nasal activity, it is so rare that fewer than 700 cases have been documented in the United States since 1988.
As the Westover family came together to fight the rare disease, they soon found out that they lived in a rare community full of uncommon people who rushed to the family’s side to provide both support and financial aid.
“We are completely blown away by the community support we have received,” said Stephen and Jennifer Westover. “People we have never met have reached out to us with prayers, kind words, financial support, and love. We did not expect so much compassion. We are really seeing the love of Christ through the community. It’s wonderful to see so much good in our little corner of the world.”
Cassie’s aunt, Bobbi Jo Himes, was one of the first to create a benefit for the Westovers with her creation of a GoFundMe page. The page which has continued to receive donations despite surpassing its original goal of $5,000.00 now sits at $6,640.
“When we got the news of Cassie’s diagnosis, it was devastating. I couldn’t imagine going through all of what Cassie and her family has gone through thus far and have to worry about medical bills on top of that,” explained Himes. “That’s why I started the GoFundMe page. When someone goes through something like this, you want to do whatever you can to help. Especially if that person is family.”
Redbank Valley Graduate Makayla Guntrum, a freshman at Westminster College, saw the opportunity to create an event that emphasized Cassie’s love for animals. ‘Claws for a Cause’ was held in Gumtown Park in New Bethlehem and served as a vendor and craft show for people and their four-legged friends. Drummond Animal Hospital of New Bethlehem also hosted a rabies clinic in addition to pet related services such as nail trimming and a pet costume contest.
Guntrum was happy with the results of the day.
“We were able to give some prizes away for the pet costume contest, and raise money for Cassie and the Westovers, but most importantly we had the community come together for a good person. It was extremely nice to be able to pull an event together like this to help some of the best people I know.”
Family friend Ryan Farster has been an integral part in planning multiple benefits for the Westover family which include a spaghetti dinner, golf outing, and an upcoming illusionist show.
For Farster, he has a simple reason for supporting the Westover family.
“I would have to say that what you are seeing is the love of Christ being poured out by a community. You may have seen my name attached to the benefit events but I did very little of the actual work and the ease at which things came together was by God’s grace and the love of all of us for Cassie. She is a remarkable young woman.”
For Farster, Cassie was a source of inspiration for all of the benefits and the love and support that is being shown for her is simply Cassie being repaid for the way she has loved and treated everyone she comes in contact with.
“Cassie herself inspired these events. Her faith edifies those around her. I don’t know one person who knows her who does not like her and that is a testament to who she is,” said Farster. “She is funny, friendly, and talented. She is easy to love especially because she has the gift of making people feel welcome.”
All of the events that Farster helped plan were a monetary success. What was even more impressive was the sheer number of people from the community that showed up in support of Cassie.
“Many people from all around came to the events. Many more are praying for her health. People from around the world! It is humbling to see and be a small part of,” said Farster.
On the morning of Cassie’s surgery, the New Bethlehem area would truly see how many people were thinking of Cassie.
On the morning of August 30th, under the direction of Redbank Valley High School Bible Club President Ethan Reichard, dozens of students, faculty, and community members gathered around the flagpole outside of Redbank Valley High School to pray for Cassie as she was about to undergo a 15-hour surgery to remove her tumor.
“I have known the importance of prayer all my life, and that God is very faithful to answer,” Reichard explained. “I felt that as a Bible Club, it was our calling to pray for her as she underwent her surgery. Cassie is a beautiful person and we all just want to see her healthy and whole once again.”
A picture of the morning prayer was posted on the Redbank Valley School District’s Facebook page and within hours the picture was shared hundreds of times. By the end of the day, it crossed the 1,000 shares threshold and would eventually top out with more than 1,900 shares, more than 2,000 likes, and more than 400 comments from people across Pennsylvania and the United States.
“This is amazing support, thank you,” commented Marcy Bauer. “Being a cancer survivor this brings tears to my eyes. We’re all praying for you, Cassie.”
David Burandt commented, “Prayers for (the Westovers) from the Bayou.”
“Thank you Redbank Valley School District for showing love for this student! Most districts would not have shown this picture or shared it with the media. Prayers to Cassie and her family,” wrote Tom Craig.
As the more than 400 Facebook comments reflected, there has been support for Cassie outside of the Redbank Valley area as well.
On September 21st, Redbank Valley hosted Clarion-Limestone in a gridiron matchup that quickly turned into a show of unified support for the Westovers from the two districts.
Redbank Valley’s football program sold shirts that read, “We got your back, Cassie” while donating one dollar from each shirt sold to the Westover family. While the Bulldog football program holds an annual whiteout game every season and sells shirts for the game, the 650 shirts they sold this year was more than 200 more than their previous highest total.
Across the field, Clarion-Limestone’s Bible Club held a bake sale for the same cause. Holly Pence is the advisor for the Bible Club and she told exploreClarion.com that in talking it over with her student leaders and parents, it was a no-brainer.
Pence explained that “Cookies for Cassie” was completely created by the kids and noted that they sold exactly the same amount of baked goods that they received in raising for than $1,500 from both Bulldog and Lions fans.
One parent explained that it was a unique opportunity to show support for a family for two districts that rival each other when it comes to athletics.
“The love of Christ extends beyond school district boundaries. We can be adversaries on the football field and still lock arms and be the church to show His love to those in need.”
On that same evening, the Bulldogs and Lions were about to square off in the Explore Radio’s Kerle Tire Game of the Week. Prior to kickoff, the Westover family was recognized and Cassie continued to inspire by singing the national anthem.
The video of her singing has since been viewed more than 22,000 times on Facebook.
For the Westovers, the support has been humbling.
“There have been so many events that have had ‘wow’ moments,” said Stephen Westover. “The two that stick out the most would have to be the Community Prayer & Praise Service the Oakland Church of God hosted and the Spaghetti Dinner & Chinese Auction hosted by Distant Baptist Church. We were so moved by the amount of people at each event and the love and support showered on us by family, friends, and strangers alike.”
“We’re so used to seeing all the bad the world has to offer such as terrible stories on the news and in the media that show us the worst of the worst. It’s really refreshing to see that our little valley truly has the best of the best. People truly care about people here. The support we have been shown by this community speaks volumes of our Christian roots and the love of Christ is evident in this community.”
Cassie, who recently found out her and her family will be headed to Hawaii courtesty of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, has been very much praised for her overwhelmingly positive mindset during this brave battle. It’s a mindset that she points out is reinforced by the people standing behind her.
“It means a lot to me that everyone would come together and stand behind me as I go through this journey. God has used the community to help me fight this battle,” said Cassie Westover.
“The Westover family would like to take a moment to offer our heartfelt thanks to all of you. People have been so generous to us. We have been given encouragement, prayers, meals, free lawncare, calls & texts just to let us know you’re thinking of us, fundraisers galore using profits and commissions from your businesses, friendship, love, financial support – the list just goes on and on. We are so humbled by the outpouring of love and support this community has shown us. God has used this community to rally around Cassie and our family. I don’t know how we would have made it without all of you. Thank you, and may God bless you all.”
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