High school is when many students make the kinds of memories that will last a lifetime. These teens look forward to their first high school dance with feelings of excitement and nervousness. It’s a chance to socialize with people outside of school and their immediate family—and have fun dressing up at the same time.
The first dance of a high school career can also set the tone for the next four years. For most teens, the crippling fear of making a misstep and being mis-branded as “un-cool” for the entirety of their high school career is almost too much to bear.
But A.J. Spader isn’t most teens. He knows what matters most. Ahead of the biggest social event of his young life, Spader decided to invite his terminally ill sister to his Valentine’s Winter Formal at O’Gorman High School.
“I want to spend as much time with her as possible while she’s still doing good,” A.J. said.
While the decision for a 15-year old high school student to bring his 10-year old sister to a school dance would normally be met with raised eyebrows, everyone understood the circumstances. A.J’s mother, Stephanie, says that his friends were very understanding and welcoming. She says the teens “didn’t blink twice” when he told them that his sister would be hanging out with them.
A.J. wanted his sister to have the entire high school formal experience. Before the dance, Rebekah had her makeup done while her mother curled her hair. She wore a tiara, a formal navy blue dress, and a corsage given to her by her older brother. She looked like a little lady!
“What girl doesn’t like to get all dressed up and beautiful?” Stephanie said.
The night was only beginning once Rebekah was transformed into a “princess.” Parents did their best impression of paparazzi as Rebekah posed for photos with her brother and his friends before heading off to pre-dance dinner. Rebekah was smiling and making precious memories with her brother.
“It’s fun to watch her live part of life where the disease doesn’t creep in, where she is just excited to be going and doing something that every child and every teenager gets to do,” father Tony Spader said.
Rebekah was diagnosed with pre-leukemia myelodysplastic syndrome several years ago. The disease is rare, with fewer than 200,000 cases reported in the United States every year. MDS is normally found in patients in older than 60 years old, making Rebekah’s case even more unfortunate.
After numerous bone marrow transplants failed to slow the progression of the disease, the family opted to stop treatment. They wanted Rebekah to enjoy the rest of her life, even it meant that it could be tragically abbreviated.
“It’s a joy filled moment, but yet there’s a little sorrow because you know this is probably one the last opportunities she’s going to have to do something like this,” Tony Spader said.
Such a show of courage, kindness, and love is to be commended. It appears as if the the decision to invite Rebekah wasn’t all about her, though. A.J. clearly cherishes his younger sister, and wants to make as many memories with her as he can. “Her laugh is pretty great,” A.J. told reporters at KSFY.
After the night of dress up, photoshoots, and dinner with high schoolers, Rebekah wasn’t feeling up to going to the actual dance. Her MDS takes a lot out of her, and she decided to return home instead. But it was already an unforgettable night for both Rebekah and A.J., and something they’ll cherish as long as fate allows.