After losing son to cancer, family fights for others

Former Strayer student Harrison Willing passed away in 2018 after a two-year battle with T-lymphoblastic lymphoma. His family is holding fundraisers for cancer research.
Posted on 08/24/2021
Harrison Willing holds Brady, a family friend. By Gary Weckselblatt

For two years, Harrison Willing bravely fought an aggressive form of cancer that overwhelmed the Quakertown boy and his family, as treatments provided both hope and despair.

To fight the T-lymphoblastic lymphoma, there were intensive chemotherapy regimens, including medication through his spine to prevent spread to his central nervous system. He would show improvement, but a relapse followed and Harrison received a successful bone marrow transplant. Shortly after returning home, however, another mass was discovered. Drugs and radiation were next. His young body was unable to handle it. At 14 years of age, Harrison's immune system was too weak to accept any treatment. He passed away on March 20, 2018 at Lehigh Valley Hospital.

“No matter what we did, it was coming for him,” his mom, Danielle, said. “You hit one milestone and think, ‘We made it.’ Then there would be a setback. That’s how it went. He was always so positive. Together as a family we never thought this is where we would be.”

In honor of Harrison, the Willing family, including dad, Jim, and sister, Madalynn, is dedicated to fighting for other “families and children battling this horrible disease,” Danielle said.

Harrison’s parents worked with the Borough of Quakertown to officially designate September as Childhood Cancer Awareness month, and this year it will be in honor of Harrison. To raise awareness for this important cause, Team Harrison, an organization founded by his parents in his memory, has asked local businesses to "Paint Quakertown Gold" for the month of September.

A huge "Family Fun Day" event is being planned as a kickoff event for Childhood Cancer Awareness. It will be held at The Farm Bakery and Events center - 2475 W Zion Hill Rd, Quakertown - on Sunday, August 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Money raised will be donated to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for childhood cancer research. The event will feature several local businesses, as well as the Quakertown Community High School Band, Football Team, and Cheerleaders.

“The benefit is for pediatric cancer research,” Jim said. “The money is not going to a national organization. There’s no middleman here. It goes directly to the scientists and doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in honor of my son.”

Less than 4 percent of the federal budget for cancer research is dedicated to childhood cancer. Each day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer in the United States, which means 15,590 children in the U.S. are diagnosed each year.

“It doesn’t just happen to Harrison, it happens to many kids,” Jim said. “And it’s so underfunded.”

Another event is set for Friday, September 17 at Wedgewood Golf Club. There will be an 8 a.m. shotgun start, with check-in starting at 7:30 a.m. Cost is $125/person or $500/foursome and includes: 18 Holes of golf with cart, and a meal following the event. There will be several competitions such as closest to the pin, longest drive, and pot of gold. During lunch there will be raffles and prizes awarded to the best and worst.

CHOP told Danielle the cost to receive a research grant is $10,000. For the study to have Harrison’s name, it will cost $25,000. “We’re at $16,000 now,” she said. To contribute to the fundraising effort, click here.

If not for cancer, Harrison would be set to begin his senior year at Quakertown Community High School where Madalynn is a sophomore. Dr. Jennifer Bubser, principal of Strayer Middle School, remembers Harrison fondly. “Harrison was so special, and his family is so wonderful,” she said. “We will never forget him.”

“There is so much love and support oozing out of the community,” Jim said. “It’s pretty awesome and humbling. We don’t ask for anything as a family, we’re self-sufficient. When it comes to this, we try to get the whole community involved and make everyone more aware of the need to help these families.”

On the Team Harrison Facebook page, it says “Harrison is an inspiration to many, both in his life and afterward. He is loved beyond measure and missed beyond words. His legacy is our reason to continue fighting for other families and children battling this horrible disease.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].

Flyer with information about fundraiser to battle pediatric cancer.
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