Last month, the Freed family’s world turned upside down when the 4-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I never in a million years would have seen this coming. Nothing was wrong with him. Nothing,” said his mom, Natalie. “He’s had swollen lymph nodes since he was a baby and we’ve had them examined at checkups and appointments regularly but they always said they were fine.”
But after a few precautionary blood tests, the family was referred to a hematologist.
“They thought it was mono or a virus or something, but cancer was completely off the radar for us,” she said. “But then it went from ‘it’s not a virus’ to ‘your kid has cancer’ to ‘we’re admitting him tonight’ — just that fast.”
Preston has finished his first month of chemo and treatments, and the doctors said with three years of treatments, he has a very good success rate and should be able to live a normal life. But already, the young boy who loves playing outside and pretending he’s a fireman or police officer finds it hard to be active, being too tired or sick from his treatments. His body is swollen from steroids and he had begun losing his hair.
“It’s terrible,” Natalie said. “It’s horrible. I knew it was going to be hard, but I never could have known how hard it would be to watch your child go through something like this, especially a 4-year-old.”
The community’s “amazing support” has helped the family cope, she said.
The Freeds’ neighborhood started a meal train to help the family. There also have been numerous friends, and even strangers, who have heard about Preston’s battle and wanted to help.
“We’re not destitute” the Willard Middle School seventh grade teacher said. “But Jeremy and I have worked very hard for everything we have. I’ve worked two jobs since I was 16 and we’ve both worked very hard to get to where we are today. But it’s a lot. And just the response from the community, complete strangers — it’s so humbling.”
Rachel Bleile, Caitlyn Corrigan and Meredith Dilger took on Preston as their St. Paul High School senior project, raising enough money for his tuition when he returns to the school next year, as well as the tuition for his 3-year-old sister, Scarlett.
Others have helped, too.
When Pigs Fly helped finance the Freeds’ yearly holiday trip to the Polar Express.
And a woman recently went to the work offices of Jeremy Preston, wanting to give a donation.
“This random lady came in off the streets carrying a flier with Preston’s picture on it from our YouCaring page,” Natalie said. “She’s like, ‘Do you know this Jeremy guy?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’ She gave him $400.”
She said she wanted to give the full amount to the family instead of letting the online fundraising and crowdfunding website take even a small percent of her donation.
“It all means so much,” Natalie said, beginning to tear up. “I’m humbled by how many have gone above and beyond to help people they don’t even know. They’re just like, ‘Hey, this is terrible that this happened to your kid and we want to help you out.’ I would never in a million years have dreamed that they would do all of this for us. It’s just crazy how good people are, especially for people they don’t even know.”
She said words don’t convey how the family appreciates the generosity.
“With everything going on with his medical bills, we’re on a very strict budget, but we’re getting by,” she said. “We’re just very careful with what we spend and what we do. And just to have this flung at you. It’s so overwhelming, but to know that you’re backed by so many good people it’s very touching. It makes me feel like I don’t know how to say thank you. ‘Thank you’ is not enough. ... Nobody can truly understand the capacity to which they have touched us.
“There’s so much stress and so much worry when you have a 4-year-old that’s going through this and it’s such a relief to be able to breathe and know that you don’t have to worry about making dinner or cleaning your house or anything else,” she added. “You can just completely focus on making sure he’s getting better because it’s just so heart wrenching to watch your child go through this.”
When he’s all better, Preston said the first thing he’s going to do is go to Jungle Junction in Bellevue, and then the whole family wants visit Disney World to celebrate. He said he’s most looking forward to meeting Donald Duck, his favorite Disney character.
In the meantime, Preston said having people visit and even bring him gifts has made him feel “special” and his favorite gift has been a firetruck.
The family said while the community as a whole has been impeccable in their support, they especially wanted to thank Susan Rogers, Karen and Tom Sharpnack, the students and teachers at Willard City Schools, St. Paul School, Jessica Bleile, Bonnie Shelly, Cheryl Paxton, Cody Wilson of Wilson Pest Management, Donnie Shantz, Gabby Shupp and Hairway 61, the residents of Eagle Creek on the meal train and Steve Wasniak.
“Everybody is just so awesome,” she said. “The community is amazing. This is such a great place to live and to be a part of.”
The YouCaring site to help raise funds for Preston’s medical bills is https://www.youcaring.com/nataliejeremyandprestonfreed-947211.