Aubreigh Nicholas of Mobile, Alabama, is a 10-year-old girl with almost 20,000 friends.
But make no mistake – she’s popular for extraordinary reasons.
In September 2017, Aubreigh started experiencing symptoms that raised some red flags for her parents, Brooke and Jayson Nicholas.
“She started complaining of a headache during the summer, but we related that to her being tired, going all the time, and just normal 10-year-old stuff,” Brooke explains. “Then she started school, and we started noticing things. Standing still was an issue, coordination … at dance, she was always front-and-center, and when they noticed her missteps, they called me. Then, her handwriting was getting sloppy, and I knew something was off. When we were camping, she told me something was wrong with her bike, that she couldn’t steer it well. When I got on, it was fine.”
That’s when they took their daughter to the doctor.
An MRI revealed some abnormalities, and the family was sent to Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Mobile, Alabama. Extensive tests were performed, and they were admitted for four days.
Then, on Sept. 12, time stood still - and their world was turned upside down.
'It stops you in your tracks'
Aubreigh was diagnosed with DIPG, which stands for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. It’s the most deadly form of childhood brain cancer, and the survival rate is virtually nonexistent.
“We were heartbroken,” Brooke says. “We were heartbroken knowing anything was wrong with our daughter, and it was a roller coaster. Ironically, the doctor who was so positive the entire time, was the doctor who had to tell us, ‘your daughter has a tumor, and it is DIPG.’ ”
Jayson and Brooke were floored.
“You never expect anything like this to happen to your family,” she says. “You expect to grow old together … it stops you in your tracks.”
The prognosis for DIPG is grim – but the Nicholas family refused to give up from the start.
“It’s not in our hands,” Brooke explains. “But the more faith you put into something, as you see with Aubreigh’s story, she has an army behind her."
That army is almost 20,000 strong – and growing by the day.
“Aubreigh’s Army: A DIPG Movement” was originally started on Facebook to provide updates and garner support. And right off the bat, the page went viral.
'We are so humbled'
“It blew up immediately,” Brooke says. “You hate to say your child has gone viral over this, but Aubreigh gets recognized daily. When we go out, she asks me, ‘Are people gonna know me? Are people gonna take pictures with me?’ Normally, when we go to restaurants, we don’t even pay – people see us and pay our check before we have a chance. We are so humbled by the whole thing – you just wish it was for a different reason.”
The supports spans far past Facebook.
Aubreigh’s dance studio wanted to contribute to her cause and raised more than $17,000 selling T-shirts and bracelets.
Everyday, at 3:28 p.m. (Aubreigh's birthday is March 28), people around the world set their alarms to pray for her.
And the list goes on and on.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without the army behind us,” Brooke explains. “We have to give a big thanks to our friends, family, co-workers, Aubreigh’s Army – we come home and find our grass cut, house cleaned, dinner here, donations under door step. It really takes a village. There are a lot of good people out there. All you hear these days is ‘hate, hate, hate.' And it’s good to be reminded of the good.”
Aubreigh, who completed six weeks of radiation, works hard to lead a normal life. She enjoys spending time with her little brother, Kipton, and has returned to school, with plans to resume dancing in the near future.
“We don’t want to go down the negative path,” Brooke says. “She’s doing so well - she’s the Student Council secretary, she made Honor Society … and she’s still a little mama to her baby brother … she loves helping out … and she’s on a waiting list for a trial in Maryland.”
Because DIPG is such an aggressive form of cancer, Brooke knows that the family has to act fast – and part of that means explaining the situation to Aubreigh, as best as one can to a 10-year-old.
'You do what you gotta do'
“You have one shot at this,” Brooke says. “You can’t wait six months because then, it’s too late. You will never meet anyone who has a smile on her face like Aubreigh. She never complained about anything, and we want to keep that. The doctors in Maryland are so positive that they are so close to finding something that will help, for the next kid, but we are hopeful that the trial will help our child, as well. Aubreigh knows what she has … she knows she has a tumor in her brain … she didn’t cry, but she said, ‘I don’t wanna talk about it anymore,’ so we don’t.”
Right now, the family is focused on spending as much quality time together as possible while they wait for the next step. Brooke, who's been at her job for 13 years, and Jayson, captain of the Mobile Fire Department, have both taken leaves from work, and in typical fashion, the community has rallied behind them.
“All the firefighters have pitched in and worked my husband’s shifts,” Brooke says, “and my job has been amazing. The support has been unbelievable. It was hard to let go, but you do what you gotta do for your kids.”
When asked how they stay so positive despite dire circumstances, Brooke answers with these four words: Be your own advocate.
“Don’t wait,” she stresses. “No doctor is going to tell you what to do because they don’t know what to do. God is a mighty man. You don’t know what His plans are. We feel that God has opened up this huge door for Aubreigh to be this figure … to bring God to more people. Will He heal her and have this huge story for her to tell one day? All these followers … how do we know that’s not for the work of God? We feel she is fulfilling this calling. But don’t sit around and wait. Always be thinking of the next step.”
Brooke urges followers to send extra prayers their way, as Aubreigh has recently been experiencing weakness and fatigue, but above all else, she wants to send this message to the army of fans fighting for her little girl.
“Thank you,” she says with sincerity in her voice. “Keep praying because we are not out of the woods by any means. We have a little bit of a good report (the tumor has not progressed), but we can’t stop there. Keep going, keep fundraising, and working toward a goal to beat this monster. Because that’s what it is … it’s a monster.”
To learn more about Aubreigh's journey or to help in any way possible, visit her page here.