GLEN ELLYN – Gabby Reese’s sister often teases her that she’s a local celebrity when they see the “#gabbystrong” signs displayed in yards around Glen Ellyn and Wheaton. The signs are a show of the community’s support for the 17-year-old Glenbard South High School senior, who recently had her fifth surgery to remove a brain tumor.
“It’s a joke between my little sister and me,” Gabby said about her “fame.” “I like to see the signs. It brings the community together, and it means a lot when I see the signs at houses that I don’t know. People who don’t even know me are thinking about me and sending their best wishes.”
Gabby was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at age 4 and had surgery shortly after to remove it. But eight years later, the tumor returned, and she’s had subsequent surgeries in 2014, 2015, 2016 and again in early September. Gabby’s mother, Denyse Reese, explained this type of tumor doesn’t respond well to treatment and often recurs.
“I don’t think there’s any worse feeling in the entire world than to watch your child go through this and know there’s nothing you can do to help,” she said. “There isn’t enough funding for pediatric cancer research, and there aren’t enough good treatment options once a tumor is removed.”
When friends of the Reese family saw the struggles they were having, they wanted to do something to show support while raising money to help pay some of the family’s medical bills. So Megan Rafferty-Flatter, neighbor and family friend, decided to make signs to sell and donate the proceeds directly to the family. She said she initially ordered 200 signs and wasn’t sure if they would all sell. But they did, and she only has a few left.
“It’s become a huge thing. So many people have reached out to me and asked how they can help,” Rafferty-Flatter said. “I’m so overwhelmed by the support that people have given. I’m so proud that our community has rallied around this family. I’m fortunate that my kids are healthy, and I didn’t know what I could do to help. So I thought if I could help relieve some of the financial burden, I wanted to try.”
For parents of a seriously ill child, life can feel lonely, Denyse said. But because of all the support from the community, she said she’s grateful and feels a little less alone.
“A lot of people wanted to do something to help and do something nice for us,” Denyse said. “I’d like the money to go to help pay some medical bills and to brain tumor research and get it in the hands of people who can find a cure. Our life now is watching and waiting, going from scan to scan. We’re trying to not let it define us and allow [Gabby] to do normal, teenage things.”
Gabby returned to school Sept. 24, and she continues to have physical and occupational therapy to help her recover from her surgery. She said the administration and teachers at Glenbard South have been very accommodating and understanding of her situation.
Gabby plans on graduating this May, and she is looking ahead to college and life beyond brain cancer.
“It’s horrific, but you can’t dwell on it because you can’t go anywhere. You have to appreciate and enjoy everything you have,” she said. “Being negative won’t get you anywhere, and it doesn’t make you feel better. I have good days and bad days, but little by little, I’m improving.”