On a sultry day last week, Gov. Bill Lee and First Lady Maria Lee were in the heart of Hermitage to honor a little boy with cancer and his sibling as a local group added a fun playset to their backyard to ease the trials of battling cancer for the young family.
The Lees blended in easily on the hot day, with Bill Lee in jeans and checkered shirt, and Maria Lee in T-shirt and jean shorts. They were at home as the group celebrated the boy and his parents.
“This is my wife’s heart and passion,” Bill Lee said.
Maria Lee quipped back and said she attends her husband’s government events, and “he comes to mine, too.”
They said hello to Jan Blaise, who has a brain tumor. They signed the swing set – installed by the first lady herself, alongside members of Roc Solid Foundation.
Roc Solid Foundation founder Eric Newman orchestrated the visit and does so for families fighting pediatric cancer. Newman was diagnosed with liver cancer at 3 years old. To the surprise of his doctors, he beat the odds and has been in remission ever since. But, he also lost two first cousins to pediatric cancer at young ages, leaving him to question, “why me?”
“This playset is much bigger than this moment,” Newman said. “This keeps getting bigger and bigger.
“I had childhood cancer, liver cancer. Luckily, the liver grows back. I am 38 years old now. I beat cancer. Now, I help.”
Newman said he simply wanted to help the Hermitage family.
“We built it and hope they don’t think cancer,” he said.
The first couple was among many who signed the play set.
“May the Lord cover you with His love every step of your days,” wrote Maria and Bill Lee on the swing set.
Maria Lee also wrote on the playset, “You are strong and courageous.”
Mother, Brianna Blaise, said the playset reveal and the governor and his wife’s presence were amazing.
“It was quite a surprise,” she said. “It’s so very special with the governor and Roc Solid’s support.”
She her son was diagnosed with a brain tumor Jan. 8, 2019. He will be 2 years old Oct. 11, she said.
Brianna Blaise is a neonatal intensive care unit nurse.
“I know babies,” she said.
At 1 month old, her son was “not progressing.”
“He was not gaining weight and more,” she said. “… Something wasn’t right; his head was expanding. I brought him in.”
He had a huge mass on his head and needed emergency surgery.
“They said there was no help,” said Brianna Blaise. “They said hospice. We searched a second opinion with St. Jude. There have been three emergency surgeries. He’s still here.”
She said the governor’s visit and playset were “a shock.”
“Especially in this pandemic,” she said.
Jan Blaise was in a car seat next to his mom last week as they took sister, Elouise, to ballet.
“He’s awake and playing,” she said. “He’s teething, and we take him to St. Jude on Monday.”
Brianna Blaise said they are hopeful and grateful Roc Solid and Maria Lee reached out to them.
“It’s a lot to take in,” she said.
Big sister, well, “She loves to squeeze him.”
Bill Lee said, “You are serving your neighborhood and addressing the challenges today who are facing circumstances. This is what happens when people come together.”