“Brandon was always ahead of everyone else,” said classmate Clare Englebert. “He is really smart and always helped me if I had any questions about schoolwork. As a friend, Brandon is one of the best. He is just such a fun person to be around and laugh with. We stayed close friends throughout high school and were planning on going to UW-Madison together this fall.”
Willems arrival in Madison is on hold. On July 19, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia. He immediately began chemotherapy, spending 25 consecutive days in the hospital. He began a second round of chemo on Aug. 17, which was expected to last 42 days. Following the second cycle and a confirmation of remission, a bone marrow transplant can be started.
“When I learned of his cancer, I was shocked,” said Englebert. “I just couldn’t believe something like this could happen to him. I didn’t really believe it until my mom told me that Brandon wouldn’t be coming with me to Madison for the first semester. It hit me right then that this was real and I kept thinking, ‘This isn’t fair. This isn’t fair.’”
The SMC community rallied around Willems and his family. Englebert suggested a run in his honor.
“I thought it was a great idea and really wanted to help,” said classmate Rachel Brown, now a freshman at UW-Stevens Point. “It started out as a very small idea, but with the help of a few moms, it grew immensely. As word started to spread, so many people stepped forward to donate their time and money.”
The “Be Positive for Brandon Run/Walk” was held Aug. 19 at the high school. The event, co-chaired by Brown and Englebert, featured a two-mile run/walk, a pasta dinner, silent auction and dunk tank. “Be Positive” blue wristbands and “IYBW” T-shirts were sold. The motto for the event modeled Willems’ blood type and attitude.
Approximately 500 people attended the event including more than 200 who took part in the run/walk.
“Brandon was a good friend to many people and I think that shows in the number of people that attended his benefit,” said Brown. “I was amazed by the turnout that we had. Our community really came together in a short amount of time to help a wonderful person and family.”
Willems was unable to attend the benefit, but his family took part in the event. His father, Bob, shared his son’s reaction to the turnout in an online journal.
“He was truly humbled,” wrote Bob. “We explained that it is a testament that he had throughout his life on the friends, classmates, co-workers and families that surrounded him. Simply put, Brandon, you’re just a great guy.
“It also shows how the people around us, both family and friends, have a willingness to come forward and help those in need,” he continued. “The various communities, SMC and Seton, St. Gabe’s, our places of work and neighborhoods we lived in, came out to show their support.”
Willems and his doctors share the same goal. They want to get his health to a point where he can start his college career.
“Every day I wear my ‘Be Positive’ wristband,” said Englebert, “pray for Brandon and his family and wait until Brandon is healthy enough to join me in Madison.”
“Brandon’s strength and courage through this battle has been amazing to say the least,” said Brown. “He has stayed extremely positive and is an inspiration to many.”
Donations in support of Willems may be made to” Be Positive for Brandon Benefit, 1416 Meadowbreeze Circle, Neenah, WI 54956. To follow his progress or view photos, including pictures from the benefit, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/brandonwillems.