Young boy who inspired community dies after battle with rare cancer

10-year-old dies of rare cancer

CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - A community is grieving after a young boy who inspired a movement in Cabarrus County lost his battle with a rare form of cancer.

Elijah Aschbrenner had been battling Epitheliod Sarcoma cancer since it was discovered in his neck in May 2014.

The 10-year-old had a recurrence this past Easter in his lung and started a new trial in Atlanta in August. His dad told WBTV's Molly Grantham that things had been "up-and-down."

During his battle, Elijah struck a chord with many in the community including NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr and Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton.

In May, Elijah joined Earnhardt and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick on the runway as part of the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation's "Catwalk for a Cause" pediatric cancer fundraiser.

Truex's girlfriend, Sherry Pollex explained what she told Elijah.

"There's adults dealing with life threatening illnesses that don't handle the way that you handle your disease the way that you do. You just have this strength and compassion about you that makes everybody else around you feel at ease," Pollex said.

Pollex said she cried all morning after learning that he died.  She says they are committed to fighting cancer.

"Martin and I obviously we'll continue to fight for kids like Elijah to get better treatments and find a cure for pediatric cancer so we don't have to go through this every time, every year we have catwalk it seems like half of them make it through and half of them don't," Pollex said, " That's not good enough."

Martin Truex will be racing in Phoenix this weekend with Elijah's name on his car.

Last month, his neighbors and friends rallied to give Elijah an early Halloween, his favorite holiday, for fear that he wouldn't make it.

When Carolina Panthers' star quarterback Cam Newton heard about it, he reportedly called and talked to Elijah. He then surprised everyone by showing up at the party, hand delivering all of Elijah's favorites foods.

"When I was introduced to Elijah, his mom was crying. He couldn't raise his voice but all he said was mom wipe your tears. Puts a lot of things in perspective," Newton said Wednesday during a press conference.  He also showed reporters the bracelet he got from the party that he still wears.

"It says pray for Elijah, never give up," Newton said.

Late Tuesday night, Elijah died.

His mother, Becky Hughes, posted a message on a Facebook page dedicated to his fight that has nearly 50,000 people following it.

"At 10:52 p.m., my baby went to be with Jesus," Hanson wrote. "Our lives will never be the same; but because of him our lives were forever changed."

"Our family is so grateful for the support everyone has given us," father Matt Aschbrenner said. "Elijah was an amazing son and I am humbled God chose him to reach and change so many hearts. I felt his spirit leave and it was an extremely peaceful departure."

Since the announcement, thousands of people who have followed Elijah's journey have sent condolences, including Earnhardt and NASCAR Joey Logano.

Many call themselves Elijah's Prayer Warriors and wear yellow bracelets declaring they are "Elijah Strong."

Betsy Thompson a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist for Teen Health Connection says grieving is different for everyone.

"Really for parents, the biggest thing is just to be there and to validate and to normalize whatever feeling your child is having.  Sometimes kids feel guilty when other kids their age die," Thompson said.

What so many are expressing online is that they will remember how Elijah lived.  A pediatric oncologist, who wasn't Elijah's doctor, explained how she counsels kids and families.

"When you are faced with a cancer diagnosis you have this very strange opportunity to think about the decisions that you make every day and how to make decisions to make each day that hopefully you're proud of and that don't leave you with any regrets," said Dr. Jessica Bell of St. Jude Alliance Clinic at Novant Health.

Elijah's brother Sam wrote Elijah's obituary.  In it, the family asks in lieu of flowers to send memorials to the Prayers for Elijah Foundation, PO BOX 5011, Concord, NC 28027. The foundation was set up in Elijah's name to help other families with a pediatric cancer diagnosis.

There will be a private memorial service.  And the family plans to hold a "celebration of the Days of Elijah" at a later time.

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