The gift, the girl and the firefighter

John Kass

October 12, 2012


The girl and the firefighter lived in the same part of town, the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Far Southwest Side of Chicago, a neighborhood of cops, firefighters and city workers.

The Mayoskis live there. And so do the Beazleys, and although there are police and firefighters in the families, they didn't know each other well.

Emily Beazley is the girl. She's 10 years old, born on Sept. 11, 2002, exactly a year after the terrorist attack in New York. At first, life wasn't easy for Emily. She suffered from persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, problems with blood flow to her lungs.

"She wasn't breathing," said her dad, Ed Beazley, a Chicago police detective. "She was as white as a sheet of paper."

The doctors warned her parents that she could have health and other problems later, but if she made it to 8 without problems, she'd likely be OK. And she was OK, a lively girl with long brown hair.

So when Emily turned 8, the family threw a big party, mom and dad relieved that she'd reached that important milestone. But seven months later she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Her lymph node on her left side expanded, collapsing her left lung, pushing her heart and airway aside. Her right lung was only at 20 percent capacity.

Then came chemotherapy. And when she'd take a shower, she'd watch as that long brown hair slipped down, into the shower drain. She had her head shaved, and her hair began to grow back, but it's not as long as it was.

She'd missed school; there were two bouts of pneumonia over the last winter.

"It feels a lot better," she said recently. "I used to run, and every time I used to fall on my face. Now I run, and I don't do that. But I have to be careful of the port that's in my chest."

She hates the pills, and the medicine the doctors give her to drink, and she recites the drugs, the 6MP, and methotrexate, "Bactrim, Zantac — that's not so bad, I drink that — and Flonase in my nose," Emily said.

"She knows about her platelets, what her white blood cell count is, what her red blood cell count is," said her mom, Nadia Beazley. "What 10-year-old should know all this?"

Her parents say she wants to become a pediatric oncology nurse when she grows up. She wants the children who've lost their hair to reach out and touch hers, and give it a tug, to remind them that their hair will grow back too.

The docs expect she'll need chemotherapy for another year or more, and it's been expensive. But there's hope. Emily has an 80 percent chance at survival. And she's had amazing experiences, from performing with White Sox manager Robin Ventura in "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman Theatre to meeting singer Selena Gomez and getting front row seats to the concert.

But the most amazing experience grew out of a neighborhood block party. That's where the Mayoski family came in.

Jennifer Mayoski is a Chicago police officer. She has three children: Nicholas 4, Jason, 2 and Brooke, 1. Her husband was Jay Mayoski, a Chicago Fire Department engineer, at Engine 101 at 69th and Bell.

Jennifer met Jay through one of his cousins.

"I always had a crush on him," she said of her husband. "He was cute to me."

They married five years ago, the kids came, and while his family came first, there was another family: the Fire Department.

"He was a fireman's fireman," Jennifer Mayoski said. And the department "was like his second family. We were his first, but they were his second."

In August there was the block party, and the kids on the street knew it would be special.

And at the block party there was a special raffle of a Mike Ditka Chicago Bears jersey to help a little girl suffering from cancer. The little girl lives on another block, but that's how Mount Greenwood is. A child needs help, the neighbors are there.

So two days before the block party, Jay mowed his lawn and set up the tent to prepare for the party. The Mayoskis' side business — Pump It Up in Orland Park, with those large inflatables where little kids climb in and jump and get sweaty — had previously donated $200 to help that little girl.

But that evening, Jay told Jennifer he didn't feel well. She wanted him to call an ambulance. He told her that would be embarrassing. Besides, he had to go to work the next day.

So he went to sleep. And Jennifer had fallen asleep, too, in their son Nicholas' bed. The next morning at 5 a.m., Jay's alarm clock went off, and she thought it was odd that he left it that way. It was blaring when she entered the room and saw him in bed.

"I touched him. He was cold. And I just knew he was gone," Jennifer said, still overwhelmed by guilt that she didn't force him to go to the ER. "I feel guilty because I didn't make him go. He never complains."

Her husband was 37 years old, in what appeared to be good health.

"Who thinks he's having a heart attack at 37?" she said.

Then came the wake and the Mass at Queen of Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Evergreen Park, the burial at Holy Sepulchre, and all those people at the front door, making condolence calls.

Jennifer didn't recognize one of the families. Members of the family pulled up in a gray Jeep and handed a sympathy card to Jennifer's sister. Jennifer tried to catch them, but they hurried off before she could thank them.

She opened the card. There was $300 inside.

Here is what was written inside:

"You don't know us. We are the parents of Emily Beazley. Emily is battling cancer. At your block party, your block was raffling off a jersey for Emily. Your block collected $300. We would like you to have it. We know it isn't much, but we hope it helps. We are very sorry for your loss. You and your family are in our prayers. Ed, Nadia, Emily and Olivia Beazley."

Jennifer began to cry.

"That little girl, I was so touched ... that she thought about me in my time of need instead of herself," Jennifer said. "Being a mother, I can't even begin to imagine going through that."

Jennifer's next thought, the card and bills in her hand, was "absolutely not." That money was raised for Emily. It would go to Emily.

Emily doesn't like to talk about death. What hurt her was the idea of other kids losing their father.

"I felt really bad, so I decided to give the money back," Emily told us. "I said, you know, I think I should give the money back. And my mom said OK."

But Jennifer Mayoski didn't see it that way. She quickly returned the cash. She kept the card.

"That money is for Emily," she said.

So the gift made a journey. It traveled on Chicago's Far Southwest Side, in a neighborhood of cops and firefighters and churches, from one block to another, from Jay and his neighbors, to Emily, and then to Jennifer, and back to Emily again.

It was a precious gift. But money had nothing to do with it.


Twitter @John_Kass