Jenna Bodiford, a 14-year-old girl from Barnwell, S.C., had no idea she was in for a royal surprise earlier this week.
The teen, who has been battling cancer since September of last year, was crowned honorary prom queen by her high school peers on Thursday night.
“When they announced her name, everyone screamed and applauded — she had tears in her eyes,” Brett Bodiford, Jenna’s father, told Fox News on Saturday. “It was really amazing for her because she had no idea that it was going to happen.”
One of Jenna’s brothers escorted her to the prom, her father said, and she was given a tiara.
“She said, ‘I don’t usually cry much over this stuff.’ She’s the type that if you’re doing something for her, she thinks you’re already doing too much” said Brett, 49.
Due to her illness, Jenna hasn’t been able to attend high school on a regular schedule. But that didn’t stop the 14-year-old from attending prom, Brett said, adding that the school called the Bodiford family to invite Jenna to the big night personally. A group of Jenna’s friends even came over ahead of time to help with her makeup, Brett said.
Jenna got a diagnosis of stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma last fall. The cancer typically forms in a person’s soft tissue, such as muscles.
The grave diagnosis was unexpected, to say the least, Brett said. One minute Jenna was complaining of unrelenting leg pain — initially thinking that she had pulled her hamstring while exercising. The next minute, after numerous medical appointments and hospital visits, she was informed of her far more severe condition.
After she first got the news, doctors wanted to attack the cancer as aggressively as they could. But the cost of that aggressive tack was almost too much, her father said, as the chemotherapy treatments, in particular, made Jenna very sick.
“It was so bad in the beginning. The doctors were so aggressive at the first that I told them we needed to slow down or we were the ones who were going to kill her,” Brett said.
The first eight weeks after the diagnosis were the most intense, Brett said. After that, Jenna’s family spent nearly half of their time in and out of hospitals. It became so much that Brett’s wife, Becky, quit her job in December to care for Jenna, and Brett’s employer has allowed him to work from home more and more.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is “not what anyone expects to wake up to,” Brett said, adding that “time is of no account to me because taking care of a cancer patient is 24/7.”
Recently, doctors informed Jenna that the cancer has spread to her brain and was terminal. She stopped chemo about four weeks ago so she can live out the rest of her life feeling her best.
“When we were at prom, Jenna was talking to a friend and said she’s living minute by minute,” Brett said. He added that the family had adopted the same mantra — he even wrote about it in the blog he’s been keeping to chronicle Jenna’s cancer journey.
What has brought peace to Brett, his wife and their two sons — they’re 23 and 25 — is Jenna’s poise, attitude and faith.
“Different times throughout this experience she has shown a faith that I’ve only tried to reach,” Brett said. “[Her prognosis] is tragic and heartbreaking and not easy — we are emotional beings, so it hurts. But she has hope in what’s going to be.”
Brett said his family had been comforted and humbled by the outpouring of support they have received from the Barnwell community and beyond. The stories Brett referenced — from free food and gas to gift baskets to group prayer sessions and strangers opening their homes to the Bodiford family when Jenna was traveling to receive cancer treatment — are seemingly endless. Jenna’s high school even gave her a cap and gown and honorary diploma so the teen could say she graduated.
Brett also recalled a time when a man in Atlanta significantly dropped the price of the handicap van the family needed to buy for Jenna. Jenna’s story so moved him that the man told Brett it was the least he could do.
“She is the community’s daughter. We just get the special honor of getting to take care of her every minute,” Brett said.
Brett’s had conversations that he never imagined he’d have to discuss with a 14-year-old — topics that have ranged from what heaven will be like to Jenna’s hopes for her funeral. But the teen has also enjoyed many of life’s small pleasures as well — such as riding around in a golf cart that was given to her by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, reading, watching TV and spending quality time with her family. Both of Jenna’s brothers are getting married in the coming months, Brett said, adding that he and his wife are also celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary on April 2. These are all celebrations they hope Jenna will be able to attend.
“There’s something about Jenna — she’s not a talker, she’s always been shy — but people are inspired by her,” Brett said. “You can go through bad things, but it doesn’t have to destroy you. And she is the picture of that.”