• Melissa Byrd

This Is Us...

Once upon a time in 2009, we were referred to a physician in NYC following completion of a 14 month treatment protocol for Jensen. We were terrified of what we would find out there, but being a leading research facility for Neuroblastoma, we felt it was the right move.

Upon our arrival, we were directed to the 3rd floor terrace of the Ronald McDonald House. We walked outside to a crowd of parents and sick children all lined up to serve up a plate of donated BBQ. I remember thinking, what have we gotten ourselves in to? What seemed like only seconds later, we hear this good ol southern voice yell out, "you must be the Byrd's?" I saw the towering man with his boots and John Deere hat on, his beautiful wife and even more beautiful two daughters.

That is where our story began. The Pierce's and the Byrd's were connected by a common bond, the love and desire to protect our child. I don't know what exactly made him reach out instantly, but I could not be more grateful that he did. The hustle and bustle of the city was overwhelming to these country folks. Within our first outing, Jensen asked "are we on another planet mama?" It certainly felt like it.

The first trip to MSKCC was a blur. It was shear panic for me to see the number of kids affected by this so called rare disease. The Pierce's certainly helped soften the blow and even Morgan was able to show us the ropes of how to navigate the facility and the playroom. I'm pretty sure that Morgan is the one that introduced us to the cafeteria! Even then at her young age, she loved food.

Our bond was strengthened through numerous treatments, surgeries, waiting rooms, etc. We all learned the newly debuted Facebook together navigating games such as Mafia Wars and that farming sensation game. We found ways to occupy our minds at the RMHouse, shared family meals cooked in the kitchen, discovered many amazing restaurants, and often just took walks to settle our anxiety.

No matter what was happening, the Pierce's were there and a life long friendship was formed. Jensen's death came way too suddenly and despite continuing on their own journey, they did not ghost us like so many friends did. They showed up at his funeral and eventually went on to help us advocate by starting a Florida chapter of Jensen’s Heart of Gold.

Another decade has now passed and there is nothing we wouldn't do for each other. When one needs the other, we are there. It is why I was able to put my life on pause to spend the last month with them as they pressed on with some grueling treatments. No words can truly express how my life has been changed in the last 4 weeks.

Morgan and I spent each night debating certain heavy topics from religion to lifestyles to politics and boy did that girl have some strong opinions. The beauty was being able to talk to a 17 year old that had more wisdom than many adults I know. She often won the debates but never forced me to concede, she valued my opinions as well...most of the time! She gave me insight to things Jensen likely felt, she reassured some of my decisions, she opened up to me about facets of her life I may never have known. She gave me her trust and that in itself was priceless.

Losing Morgan, my friend and companion, was the second hardest thing I have ever endured. She had so many great things to offer this world and I know her life will not have been lived in vain. I, for one, am a better person for knowing her and another piece of my heart has gone with her.

We will celebrate her brilliant life on July 12th at 7pm on the Strawberry Festival Grounds in Plant City, Florida. To capture her spirit and the light she has shone on this world, we will wear the colors of the rainbow. All are welcome to attend with masks and honoring social distancing guidelines. Visit for more info or to leave words of love and encouragement.

Until we meet again my friend, I will do my best to live with the passion that you inspired in me.

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Jensen's Heart of Gold is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization

Contact us:

Alabama Chapter:251-978-4579

6093 Andhurst Dr

Gulf Shores, AL 36542

Contact us:

Florida Chapter: 813-967-0481

7065 Durant Rd

Plant City, FL 33567

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