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Iowa City native spreads awareness to fight cancer

BY JULIA JESSEN | JANUARY 23, 2012 7:20 AM

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Jessie Griffith's rubber bracelets create mini rainbows just above her wrists. Each has a message, and almost all of the messages have to do with cancer.

Griffith is avidly trying to do anything she can to raise cancer awareness and do her part in the long and trying battle against the vicious disease. Last week, she moved forward with her goal by chopping off her long red hair and donating it to Locks of Love.

"It's really nice to be able to give it to somebody else who needs it because I don't need it," she said. "My hair's going to grow back. It grows back so fast."

Cancer has maintained a presence in Griffith's life since she was 6 years old, when her grandfather died from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

In 2008, through her sister, she met a boy named Sergio, who had cancer.

He often went to the Java House in the hospital, where her sister worked at the time and looked at the "pictures" on her sister's tattooed skin and help her choose her next hair color. In 2009, although he was cancer free, something attacked his immune system, and he passed away at the age of 13.

"It was odd for me because he was 13 years old," Griffith said. "You never think you're going to have to go through anybody passing from cancer—let alone someone who's 13."

But the disease became even more prevalent in Griffith's life when her father was admitted to the hospital last April and found to have stage four adenocarcinoma—lung cancer.

Griffith's blue eyes filled with tears and her face flushed as she remembered sitting at her father's bedside and holding his hand as he left the world, only a week after he entered the hospital.

"I would not wish that situation on anyone. Holding someone's hand—your daddy—your ultimate hero," she said. "You don't want to hold his hand while he's dying."

After her father died, she became friends with Sarah Werkmeister and her daughter Jersey, who was diagnosed with a Wilm's tumor. The first time Griffith stepped back into a hospital after her father's passing was to visit Jersey. The 7-year-old raised Griffith's spirits and inspired her.

"It would be uplifting for anyone to see because she's just the sweetest kid in the world," Griffith said.

It is because of people such as Sergio, Jersey, and her father that Griffith wants to raise cancer awareness and inspire others to do anything within their means to help those with cancer.

"I'm pleading — if you're able, then do something about it because it just needs to stop," she said. "Every day you hear in the news people getting diagnosed with cancer, and it just needs to stop."

Werkmeister said it means a lot to her that Griffith is taking the time to do something in her life to raise cancer awareness.

"Before Jersey had cancer, I would have thought, 'Oh, that's cool', but you definitely take it differently when you're dealing with that battle," she said. "I think it's a beautiful thing that she did because she didn't have to."

Griffith's sister, Mandy Griffith, said she is proud of her little sister and she knows her father would be, too.

"His daughters mattered more to him than anything in this entire world," she said. "I know that he would be beyond extremely proud of her for doing this."


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