The family of a pug-loving Mission Road Elementary third-grader who is battling cancer has found a way to turn his illness into something philanthropic.
Matt and Jessi Bailey of Cartersville found out on July 8 that their youngest son, Judd, who turns 9 today, had stage 2 B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma — cancer of the lymphocytes, or the white blood cells that fight infection.
"He had a large mass in his right groin area," said Mrs. Bailey, who has taught third grade at MRES for seven years. "They knew it was cancer within 24 hours."
His treatment, which is "identical to leukemia" treatment, consists of weekly chemotherapy injections at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta—Scottish Rite Hospital, she said.
"These take about half a day," she said. "Because of COVID, only one parent is allowed in with him so this is hard on all of us."
Judd's treatment is broken up into phases — induction (one month), consolidation (the phase he is in now, one month), interim maintenance (two months), delayed intensification (two months), another interim maintenance (two months) then a two-year maintenance, according to Mrs. Bailey.
"This cancer has a 95% success rate, and his tumor showed good genetics so that means he is a standard risk, which is a less-aggressive track of chemo," she said.
Considering everything Judd has been through so far, "he is doing very good," his mother said.
"He has had five spinals and two bone-marrow biopsies, two PET scans and chemo eight times in a short eight weeks," she said.
"I am feeling great," Judd added.
Because of her son's illness, Mrs. Bailey said she and her husband are having to take "extreme precautions" to prevent him from being exposed to COVID-19, including enrolling him in distance learning, where he's being taught by her best friend, Amy Grace Cooper.
"Judd has only been around his cousins — they have been quarantined, too — and his older brother, Sam , who is doing the CVA, Cartersville Middle School's virtual academy," she said. "We are upset that Sam misses his first year of middle school, but things have to be prioritized right now. Sam seems to be handling it well."
One thing that's helped the young cancer patient and his family through this difficult time so far has been the support they've received from MRES and the community.
"The love and support that we have received from our community, family, friends and everyone has been completely humbling and inspiring," Mrs. Bailey said. "During such trying times, it has restored my faith in humanity, and this support is what is helping us get through each day. We are all completely blown away and feel completely supported by everyone."
Judd said the support he's gotten from his school has been "really nice, and it helps me get through my cancer treatment easier."
"I am so thankful for the support I have received," he said. "It has helped me so much."
After his diagnosis, Judd's aunt, Laura Walton, started a Facebook page for him and gave him "a few options" for a nickname for him that also would be the name of the group, Mrs. Bailey said.
He chose Super Pug Judd in honor of his love for the small wrinkly-faced, curly-tailed dog.
"I love it," he said. "It's the best name in the world, and I will never change it, ever."
As much as Judd loves his nickname, he loves the breed of dog even more.
"The reason I like pugs so much are because of their little smooshy faces, and I fell in love with them from a YouTuber named Dan TDM," he said. "He has a bunch of pugs. I've loved them for four years. I have 18 stuffed pugs, pug bedroom suite, all the pug clothing they make."
And Wednesday, he became the proud owner of his very own pug puppy named Rocco.
"Our neighbors, Jill and Daryl Jones; their future daughter-in-law, Anna Torrence; and her parents, Malinda and Ryan Torrence, reached out to Petland Kennesaw, and they donated a pug to Judd," Mrs. Bailey said, noting her son is "completely in absolute love" with his new pet. "We are blown away by their kindness. Jill wanted to do something super-special for Judd, and she certainly did."
"It's because of my neighbors and Petland Kennesaw that I have my perfect pug," Judd said.
Mrs. Bailey noted Rocco's birthday is April 21, the same day as her and her husband's anniversary and Sam's birthday.
Judd's love of pugs also has led to a campaign that's raising money for CHOA.
His aunt, Rachel Keith, had a few #SuperPugJudd T-shirts made, "just for the family to wear on the days Judd was receiving chemo," but after posting pictures on Facebook, "we had a ton of people requesting them," Mrs. Bailey said.
"The original shirts were ordered online, and Chandler Morris [the nephew of her close friend, Jenna Harris] recreated the image out of the kindness of his heart," she said. "He is a super guy and so giving. It made him happy just to be part of the cause. He did an excellent job. We absolutely love them."
The shirts sell for $15, with $10 going to the cost of making the shirt and $5 going to CHOA to help families who also are going through difficult times, Mrs. Bailey said.
"When we were staying at the hospital for Judd's port placement and first rounds of chemo, we didn't have a bed," she said. "The nurse brought us a very nice blow-up mattress. I asked around and searched on Facebook and found #nolansninjas. Nolan is a child from Dallas that had cancer and raised money and donated blow-up mattresses and wagons to families, like ours, to help with the stay. We want to do the same thing and help out families, just like ours, when this is all over."
Mrs. Bailey said they haven't decided exactly what they're going to use the proceeds for, "but it will be to benefit families that are going through cancer with their child at Scottish Rite or to Ronald McDonald House," which provided them with breakfast and lunch during their hospital stay.
"We feel like it is very important to help out families and pay it forward, like people did for us," she said. "It is such an overwhelming, quick and aggressive process that you do not have time to think about things you may need. My personal and Mission Road families gave us any and everything we could possibly have needed for our stay. A mattress is not something you think about. It was so extremely meaningful, and we want to be able to do something similar for other families."
So far, the family has sold around 200 shirts, Mrs. Bailey said.
"It has been overwhelming to see all of the love and support from this community," she said. "It truly takes my breath away."
To order a shirt, fill out the form at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSePnh4Ow5YlXmu59QOVOHOAvwSIBAxe8oLrZZaj2ZdPue05vA/viewform.
Between the prayers and the treatment Judd is receiving, Mrs. Bailey is fully expecting her son to survive his battle with cancer.
"We are so thankful for the love and support for our sweet boy," she said. "He is a true fighter and will beat this with flying colors. We appreciate all of the love, prayers and support. Our community is the absolute greatest place to live."