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For Jase, 3, it takes a village — and a parade fueled by love

As he undergoes cancer treatment, a little boy feels his community’s embrace

Jase Russell, 3, and his dad, Josh, waved as a parade goes by his house in West Bridgewater
Jase Russell, 3, and his dad, Josh, waved as a parade goes by his house in West BridgewaterJessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

WEST BRIDGEWATER — It was a homemade springtime parade for the ages, all of it for an audience of one, the impossibly cute little boy who sat under a blue umbrella on his front lawn as a cavalcade fueled by love and greased by tears rolled by.

And rolled by. And rolled by.

It was a scene straight out of Hollywood, a production worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. All of it passing through a quiet subdivision where 3-year-old Jase Russell — sandwiched between his mom and his dad — flashed a wide smile and brightly waved.

People waved to Jase Russell, during a socially distanced parade in his honor.
People waved to Jase Russell, during a socially distanced parade in his honor.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Motorcycles cops waved back.

There were gleaming vintage convertibles. Tow trucks and big rigs. Firetrucks, dump trucks, and garbage trucks. There were green tractors, red semi-trucks, and yellow front-end loaders. A young woman leaned out a window and held a sign that read, “We love you, Jase.”

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Police sirens screamed. A fire chief flashed his crimson lights. Candy was tossed. Kisses were blown.

Jase Russell, and his mom, Danielle, and dad, Josh, waved to a police officer who was part of the parade.
Jase Russell, and his mom, Danielle, and dad, Josh, waved to a police officer who was part of the parade.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

An hour or so later, when it was finally over the other day, Josh Russell hugged his young son and asked: “Wasn’t that awesome?’’

Jase nodded, supplying his unmistakable wordless answer: “Yes, it was.''

Little Jase Russell is continuing the fight for his life this week at Boston Children’s Hospital, where on Tuesday he began chemotherapy in preparation for stem cell transplants next week. It’s his most recent treatment for neuroblastoma, a cancer discovered in his right adrenal gland.

Jase Russell picked up his firetruck after watching the parade, which included a real firetruck, go by his home.
Jase Russell picked up his firetruck after watching the parade, which included a real firetruck, go by his home.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“It starts in the nerve cells,’’ Josh Russell told me when we chatted on his back deck after the parade had passed. “It’s not as easily treatable and more aggressive than leukemia.’’

“It’s aggressive and its spreads everywhere,’’ added Danielle Russell, Jase’s mom. “It causes tumors in your bones and throughout your body. It gets everywhere. They treat it aggressively. They throw everything at it except the kitchen sink.’’

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In other words, it’s a medical nightmare.

That certainly describes what Danielle and Josh Russell are going through now, which makes the support they are receiving from neighbors and friends — sometimes from total strangers — so remarkable.

“We’ve seen so much good in people,’’ Danielle Russell said. “People who have never met us. Never met Jase. They say, ‘We’re praying for you.’ It’s really shown the good in people.’’

A member of his parade held a sign for Jase Russell.
A member of his parade held a sign for Jase Russell.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

To which Josh Russell added: “He’s got some cool battle scars.’’

Both 35, they are husband and wife. They are mom and dad. They are high school sweethearts who danced together at their prom at the Taunton Holiday Inn. They can trace their love story — believe it or not — back to a preschool classroom at a place called Magic Touch.

At the dawn of young adulthood, Danielle went to the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Josh enrolled at Babson College in Wellesley. They married in 2010 and months later moved from Easton to West Bridgewater.

When Jase came along in early December 2016, they felt the unconditional love familiar to almost all new parents.

“He was the easiest baby,’’ Danielle said. “All my friends were jealous. They were like: ‘Oh, you’re going to have a baby. You’re going to know what it’s like to be tired.’ He slept through the night. He was the easiest baby. He barely ever cried. When he woke up, he was happy, smiling, and laughing at you."

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Josh Russel embraced Jase during the parade outside their home.
Josh Russel embraced Jase during the parade outside their home. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

That sunny disposition disappeared about a year ago. The baby awoke in the middle of the night, vomiting.

What followed was a terrifying medical journey. His fever spiked. And then receded. Jase marked his third birthday on Dec. 3., so it was time for his 3-year-old checkup.

"It was Friday the 13th,'' Josh Russell, the Globe’s general manager for operations, recalled. "We were ready to walk out, and the doctor comes back in the room and he says, ‘There’s something going on.' ''

A simple blood test was administered — a pinprick of blood from the toddler’s finger.

Jase’s blood count was low. His parents raced from the doctor’s office to South Shore Hospital. There were more tests. And more alarm bells. An ambulance carried them to Children’s Hospital. The initial diagnosis? Leukemia. But then an ultrasound detected a tumor in Jase’s right adrenal gland. Neuroblastoma.

The little boy responded amazingly well to early treatment.

“He gets everything,’’ his mother said. “It is like the most intense form of treatment that you can have for childhood cancer.’’

“He knows he’s sick, but he doesn’t know what cancer is,’’ Josh Russell said. “And I don’t know how to explain to him what cancer is.’’

Little Jase Russell, fresh from that holiday parade that passed by his front door, is back in the hospital now. Back at Boston Children’s Hospital, where on Tuesday, doctors who once already saved his life went back to work.

“They want to give him two super-high rounds of chemo,’’ his mother explained. “To do that, they have to give him a stem cell transplant.’’

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“I don’t have words to express how unbelievably grateful we are,’’ she said. “There are a lot of kids who are going through cancer, and there are a lot of families that we see in the hospital who don’t have the resources that we have. We come from unbelievable families. I don’t know how we would get through this without them. The community has been so good to us.’’

That community was on display early this week, assembling in a parking lot that served as the staging ground for that parade the Russell family will never forget. It looked like a combination circus and carnival on wheels.

Children threw candy out to Jase Russell as they took part in the socially distanced parade.
Children threw candy out to Jase Russell as they took part in the socially distanced parade. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“To see the impact that a little 3-year-old boy has on people is just totally overwhelming,’’ his aunt, Becky Regan, told me. “It’s just really beautiful. People are good.’’

“Jase has a long road ahead of him,’’ said Laurie Glidden, a longtime friend of the family. “He’s been through a lot already. But this next round is supposed to be grueling. And we just want to send him off with a smile on his face. That’s very important.’’

And then a horn blew. And engines revved. The caravan stirred to life and began to make its way to the neighborhood where a little boy sat on a blanket with a smile and a wave that provoked smiles dampened by tears.

Josh and Danielle Russell know what this week and the weeks that follow will mean for their son.

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“The treatment has side effects,’’ Josh said. “We want him to be healthy. And we want him to be happy. They told us he should be able to be a normal kid. So he won’t do the preschool thing this year, which we were planning on doing. Longer term, we want him to be happy. We want him to find something that he loves and is passionate about.’’

Members of Jase's parade waved at him from the street.
Members of Jase's parade waved at him from the street. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Danielle Russell nodded as her husband looked ahead to what’s next on this medical journey.

“The treatment coming up is going to be super-grueling,’’ she said. “He needs to be washed down every four hours, and all his stuff needs to be changed every four hours. I want him to survive this first and foremost. There’s no guarantee on that.’’

“There’s still a long way to go,’’ she said.

And a long line of people reaching out with love and support as far as the eye can see.

Just like all those people Jase saw rolling by his front lawn this week.


Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.