EVANSVILLE, Ind. - An 11-year-old southern Indiana boy suffering from a rare form of cancer is being showered with well-wishes, gifts and opportunities a typical boy don't get to experience.
J.J. Bland, of Evansville, started Taekwondo lessons at age 3 and is now a black belt. He is a bit shy and doesn't talk much to people he doesn't know well, but photos of his trip to Disneyland show him looking very happy.
Bland isn't able to engage in martial arts these days because he has Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that accounts for just 1 percent of all childhood cancers. There are about three cases per one million per year.
J.J.'s mom, Dana Bland, told the Evansville Courier-Press that he complained about aching in his left leg last year.
There was no fever, swelling, or other outward sign of a serious problem, and it could have been dismissed as a sports injury or “growing pains.”
Fortunately, his pediatrician did further investigation and that led to J.J.’s August diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma in the femur of his left leg.
J.J. has endured more than a dozen rounds of chemotherapy, and he's been through several surgeries, including one at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis to remove the disease portion of his femur and reconstruct that part of his leg.
There's no sign that J.J.'s cancer spread, but doctors at Riley are treating him the same way they would if it had.
The outpouring of support for J.J. began shortly after his diagnosis, first with a boy at his church donating $300 to help with medical expenses, then with a middle school fundraiser and donations made to a Kickin' Cancer with J.J. account at Old National Bank.
His love of martial arts brought him to the attention of "Kickin' It," a series on Disney XD. On his trip to California, he got to visit the set of the show this spring.
“When you think of Hollywood, you think of self-absorbed people,” Dana told the Courier-Press. “But this is the nicest group of people I’ve ever, ever met. They didn’t have to do it and they haven’t advertised it.”
As Bland continues to battle cancer, the well-wishes continue. On a Facebook group created to support J.J.'s cancer fight that has about 9,200 likes, a story of a recent visit to Olive Garden was recounted.
"When it was time to pay the bill, our waitress said someone had already paid for everything," the posting read. "I asked the waitress who it was, and she said that the person wanted to stay anonymous. Thank you so much to whoever that was."