At an early age, Keeley Jones learned what cancer is, what it does, and that much more research is needed for a cure. Turning her life experience and research into a passion, Jones has been part of a team that has raised over $25,000 for the cause in the last three years; a fete that not many high schoolers have accomplished. “I know that I can’t find a cure so the best thing I can do is be an advocate and raise money that I can donate so that someone else can find a cure.”
In 2013, she, along with her mother, Leslie, and sister, Marley, launched Team Chris after her father, Chris, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rapid moving brain cancer with a three year survivor rate. “He made it to right at the three year mark before he passed,” said Keeley. After researching her father’s diagnosis, she began to learn through books, and through real life, what cancer does to the patient, and the surrounding loved ones. “When I realized they weren’t going to be able to do anything, my hope was that somehow I can make sure this doesn’t happen to another little girl. If we help just one person, we know we’ve done what we were suppose to do.”
In late 2013, Team Chris was melded in with Bearcats for a Cure, the Mena High School Relay for Life team. Keeley has led that group as Team Captain for the last two years. “Mrs. Gordon is the sponsor and she is the greatest sponsor ever,” she said. With her guidance, Keeley and other students have worked tirelessly to raise money and awareness throughout their school and community.
Fundraisers for the group have varied from yard sales and 5K runs to cupcake sales and ‘Egg My Yard,’ a fundraiser where she dressed as the Easter Bunny and ‘egged’ yards with plastic eggs. “We did a fundraiser my junior year for Mrs. Larson, who had breast cancer. We did a cupcake fundraiser for her; it was one of my favorites. We love to help everyone but she’s the only single individual that we’ve gotten to help,” Jones explained.
Through those fundraisers, Bearcats for a Cure raised over $10,363 this year and since 2013, over $25,000. “It makes me really happy and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. My first year, I made a goal of $5,000 and raised $7,000, so the last year we upped the goal to $8,000 and fell just short. “This year, we wanted to exceed our goal so we did so much. We had a lot of little fundraisers to raise as much as we could and we did well.” Surrounded by many helpers, she said Amber Brewer donated her pageant proceeds this year and Kayla Mendoza launched a girls night fundraiser at her shop. She also said that Amanda Barrett “went above and beyond” for her. “She has done so much and has donated it all. Bags of candy and eggs, tutus for relay for life, she has been a tremendous help.” She also received help from Tim Kizer, Stacy Nash, and Steve Richie, who all sponsored her for Relay night. “The money they gave, provided food, decorations, and everything we needed for our booth.”
With Keeley now graduated from Mena High School, her next trek will take her to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway this fall to work on her Bachelors Degree in Special Education and her Masters in Occupational Therapy. She also plans to advocate for Alzeimer’s disease, which took her grandmother. “There isn’t a lot of awareness for this in Arkansas and so I would like to start doing something for that. I’ll still raise awareness for cancer but I’d like to do that for my Mimi as well. It’s just as sad and heartbreaking as cancer. It’s not the full life that they are suppose to live.”
The reigns of Team Captain of Bearcats for a Cure will be handed over to her younger sister, Marley, who also knows all too well the pain of losing a loved one to cancer and shares the same passion as her sister. “Marley and Mom have helped out a lot and I will continue to help as much as I can.”
As for the money raised by their team and others, Jones knows that research is where the funding is needed most. “They’ve started finding different things to help slow cancer down but new studies are needed. The death rate has dropped over the last 20 years and I feel that funding research is the best thing we can do.
“I always say, if cancer has affected your life in some way, the best thing you can do is advocate, talk about it and if you’re able to prevent it, you should stop laying in that tanning bed, dipping your dip, or whatever it takes.”
If you would like to learn more about Polk County Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society, call Richie Lawry, Publicity Chair, at 479-394-6172.