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 Barnwell High School peers on Thursday night.
“When they announced her name, everyone screamed and applauded -- she had tears in her eyes,” Jenna’s father, Brett, told Fox News on Saturday. “It was really amazing for her because she had no idea that it was going to happen.”
“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,” Brett, 49, added.
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, her father said. Jenna’s friends came over ahead of time to help with her makeup, and one of her older brothers escorted her to the dance.
It was a night full of excitement and memories for Jenna, who was diagnosed with stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma last fall. The cancer typically forms in a person’s soft tissue, such as muscles.
The grave diagnosis was unexpected. One minute Jenna was complaining of unrelenting leg pain -- initially thinking that she had pulled her hamstring while exercising. The next minute, after numerous doctor 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, as the chemotherapy treatments, in particular, made Jenna very sick.
“It was so bad in the beginning. The doctors were so aggressive at 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 was the most intense, he said. After that, Jenna’s family spent nearly half of their time in and out of hospitals. It became so frequent that Jenna’s mother, Becky, quit her job in December to care for her, 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 is terminal. She stopped chemo about four weeks ago so she can live out the rest of her life feeling her best.
Brett overheard Jenna tell a friend at the prom that she’s living “minute by minute.” He said the family had adopted the same mantra; he even wrote about it in a blog that chronicles Jenna’s cancer journey.
What has brought peace to Brett, his wife Becky and their two sons -- ages 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,” he 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.”
The family has been comforted and humbled by the outpouring of support they have received from the Barnwell community and beyond. The stories Brett referenced are seemingly endless; from free food and gas, to gift baskets, to group prayer sessions and more. Strangers opened their homes to the Bodiford family when the teen was traveling to receive cancer treatments, and Barnwell High School recently gave her a cap and gown and honorary diploma, he added.
Brett also recalled a time when a man in Atlanta significantly dropped the price of a handicap van the family needed to buy for Jenna. The teen’s story moved him so much 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,” he said.
As of late, Brett’s had tough conversations with Jenna -- topics that have ranged from what heaven will be like to her hopes for her funeral. But the 14-year-old 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,” he said. “You can go through bad things, but it doesn't have to destroy you. And she is the picture of that.”