“The people at St. Jude’s are amazing. They’re always smiling. They make you feel welcome. They have things to do for the kids – music, playground. I’m so happy we made the decision to go to St. Jude’s.
The doctors follow us on Facebook. They talk to us. We talk to the doctor one on one after every treatment. It’s all highly organized. I never thought I would see something like that. It really is an amazing place.”
So says James Stafford about St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis. James’ daughter, Nova Bella Rose, spent two years of her young life at St. Jude’s.
“Nova is a warrior”
James is our Area Operations Manager at America’s Car-Mart in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and he shares Nova’s story:
When Nova, now two years old, was six months old, she was diagnosed with bilateral Retinoblastoma. “She has tumors in both her eyes. It’s one of the rarest forms of cancer in kids – 300 kids born a year get this disease,” comments James. “It was stage four on Nova’s left eye and stage one on her right eye.”
After obtaining four opinions, James, and his wife, Matisha, determined St. Jude’s was the perfect fit for Nova. A video about Retinoblastoma helped prepare them for the road ahead. Upon arriving at St. Jude’s, they visited with Nova’s doctors, who said, ‘we have to start tomorrow.’
So, in June 2020, Nova started treatments and surgery – chemotherapy five times a week for nine months. Laser treatments for the first three months. Freezing treatments once a week to kill the tumor from the outside.
These procedures stabilized Nova’s right eye, but her left eye still required laser treatments. And on July 2, 2020, the tumor in Nova’s left eye burst. There was no saving the eye and Nova had surgery on July 3 to remove her eye.
The tumor spread to Nova’s liver and in September 2020, she had a bone marrow transplant. On Jan. 1, 2021, she started a new radiation treatment to stop the growth of the tumors in her liver. That was five days a week for a month.
Now it’s radiation every six to eight weeks to ensure the tumors are not growing.
“After the bone marrow transplant, it’s going good for Nova, and one eye is looking good,” says James, who added that faith in the Lord has helped him and his family through this ordeal.
“It’s also strength in numbers. Family. My mom. My mother-in-law. Matisha was there the whole time while I worked,” James says. “We pray every day. The Lord has taken us all the way through, keeping our faith.”
“And Nova was and is a warrior. She remained pretty much happy throughout all this. If she was sick one day, the next day she was ready to go,” continues James. “If she can make it through what she made it through, I can do anything. I would do anything for her. She fought to be here with us.”
“Nova is doing great!”
While the first two years of Nova’s life have been tough, and after beating three types of cancer, she’s doing great today. “It’s a blessing for her to be here,” says James, who looks forward to enjoying the holidays with Nova at home this year.
“All she knows is St. Jude’s,” James says. “She knows all the doctors and nurses. Everybody loves her.”
And now James and Matisha keep Nova busy. She swims, dances, tumbles, and enjoys puzzles. “She’s doing everything we can to give her opportunities – to let her choose to be what she wants to be,” smiles James.
“She really loves swimming. She’ll stay in the bathtub for four hours if we let her,” laughs James. “To see her now and to see how she is progressing and learning to swim is amazing. She’s spicy.”
“She is the light of my world. She is always happy. A kid who goes through so much, but she’s always smiling,” he continues.
“Car-Mart’s toy drive means everything”
“When I heard Car-Mart does a toy drive, it was emotions everywhere. I just had to be a part of it – just to see a smaller company reach out and touch so many lives,” remarks James, who joined Car-Mart in August. “It’s important to do this, and it told me I made the right decision to come here.”
“A lot of people don’t know how important these hospitals are. Child cancer awareness is in September and yet we don’t acknowledge it like we do other cancers,” says James. “Without these hospitals, I don’t know where we would be.”
“These children are our future. If you walk the halls at St. Jude’s, you’ll see the kids on the walls. They’ve been through the worst of the worst, and they got through it,” James concludes. “It’s amazing to have these hospitals.”
So, when it’s time to deliver the toys to the kids, both James and Nova plan to be there – putting a smile on a child’s face.
Want to help kids like Nova?
Bring a toy (or two or three) to your local America’s Car-Mart. We’ll take it from there. In December, our Car-Mart associates will deliver the toys to the kids at 25 children’s hospitals in our 12-state area. Learn more about our Holiday Toy Drive.