A 5-year-old girl died with only one wish: to raise 10,000 toys for sick children. Years later, her memory lives on through the Sassy Massey Smiles Foundation, established in her honor.
When Jillian Massey was four years old, her entire life changed. Instead of playgrounds, gymnasiums, and toy stores, she would frequent the hospital as she was diagnosed with cancer.
Just two weeks after celebrating her fourth birthday, Jillian was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain and spine cancer called medulloblastoma. She immediately went through treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she gained many friends.
In 2016, Jillian wanted to give her friends at the Children’s Hospital some gifts. She had a goal of collecting 50 to 100 toys to give to them, but after the community found out about her toy drive, she had more than 3000 gifts to deliver to other children by December.
Watching her go through treatment was heartbreaking for her parents, but she made battling cancer look easy at four years old. She was easy to distract with toys, movies, and play, and to her parents, that was a blessing because her diagnosis never affected her mental health.
Jillian never asked her parents any questions. Instead, she faced every day with a smile and made her dreams turn into her everyday reality. While the treatment she had to undergo was brutal, she didn’t let it dampen her spirits, and she remained courageous, friendly, and kind through it all.
Janelle also found comfort in knowing that Jillian no longer knows pain, anger, or sadness, and only love and joy. To her, Jillian never lost the battle because the little girl never knew she was battling something. She shared:
“She won the right to be a [five-year-old] showing the world how to live and not worry about fighting a monster that she didn’t know existed or ever had a fair chance at beating. There is no fight in the unknown.”
To Janelle, her daughter lived life to the fullest. She took the gift of life and made her everyday reality something that her dreams were once made of. “My friends, please smile when you read this post through the tears because that is what Jillian would want,” she ended the announcement.
Before Jillian passed away, she made it known to her parents that she wanted to collect 10,000 toys for sick children after their first toy drive became a success the previous year. In the same way that toys made her happy throughout her time in treatment, she thought it would make other kids feel the same way.
Jillian never got to see her wish come to fruition, but it was fulfilled shortly after her death, and her parents were able to donate 10,000 toys to pediatric patients. Now, years later, her cause continues to live on through the Sassy Massey Smiles Foundation headed by Janelle.
All year long, the foundation aims to bring joy to children in hospitals through toys. It accepts in-kind and monetary donations and hosts annual events and fundraisers to help reach its goals. Its mission is to “spread Jillian’s kindness by delivering miles of smiles to sick children.” The sweet young girl once mentioned that hospitals were a place of “fun and happiness,” and that stuck with her parents. They want to make sure that although children are receiving treatment in hospitals, they can experience fun and happiness there the same way Jillian did.
Thanks to everyone’s support, they now do this all year round instead of just Christmas. Janelle’s perseverance to continue Jillian’s legacy has made the Sassy Massey Smiles Foundation what it is today. Many organizations and establishments have also partnered up with their cause to give toys to as many pediatric patients as they can every single year.