Faces both familiar and new filtered through the crowd in the Summit Church parking lot Saturday, showing their support of Ariel Porter, a Providence Village girl who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer this year.
Proceeds raised among the smoky air and optimistic smiles exceeded $4,000 to help Nathan and Tasha Cotton pay for the expenses the family is facing in the wake of Ariel’s illness.
“She has had a positive attitude, she’s been such a strong fighter, and she has never complained one time through the process,” Tasha said. “This girl had brain surgery and she came out only on Tylenol, so she’s been—she is such a strong warrior.”
Ariel’s life was turned upside down when a seizure took her to the ground, causing her to aspirate on her vomit. Tasha found her, she said, and Ariel’s 18-year-old brother Cameron called 911. Her mother worked to resuscitate and then bring her out of the bathroom.
Nathan said Tasha dragging Ariel through the hallway helped release some of the water causing pressure on her brain “for her to at least not die.”
The seizure, the pressure and the overall sickness that Ariel had been experiencing for months were caused by tumors in her brain.
Those tumors are caused by a cancer called diffuse midline gliomas with the h3k27m mutation, which is a “very lethal form of pediatric cancer.”
“The water on the brain and having that seizure made us get there early enough where they’re still the size of grapes or an olive,” Nathan said, adding that the doctor didn’t believe the tumors had yet fully fused with Ariel’s brain matter.
One sits near the top of her spinal cord, which is likely the main culprit in the muscle weakness and nausea Ariel had been experiencing since June, Tasha said. The other two are in her right hemisphere.
A straight-A student who had also been working at a local fast food restaurant, Ariel didn’t want to wallow, her mother said. She decided to fight and to fight with a positive outlook.
And her family echoes that outlook. They are hopeful they can get the 16-year-old into a program with a new kind of drug, ONC201 from Oncoceutics.
Before the barbecue, Ariel had completed her 30 days of radiation treatment sessions and 42 days of chemotherapy.
“Now we’re in the six to seven week waiting period when they don’t treat her at all,” Tasha said.
There are three possible places where Ariel might be able to seek a new treatment that gives hope of escaping a grim outcome from pediatric cancer.
"Basically, it can either stabilize the cancer, in some cases it’s actually reversed the cancer stages, but it is in clinical testing,” Tasha said.
To be treated in Miami, the requirement is that Ariel’s condition gets worse.
In New York at NYU, the program is willing to take pediatric cases.
Houston is also potentially opening up as a possibility at MD Anderson.
Tasha said she, her husband, Ariel’s father and stepmother are all working together to get Ariel the best treatment possible.
Whatever the location, the family faces expenses. Both sets of parents have needed to use family leave time.
Friends, family and strangers came from as close as the immediate area to as far as Oklahoma and Louisiana.
“There’s so many people,” Tasha said. “I just look around and I see a friend, a family member, a colleague, I see former coworkers that I worked with at other companies here, I see members of our community here.”
She also said she was grateful for the support of the Aubrey Police Department and the Providence Village Hope Foundation.
Nathan echoed her gratitude.
“Your own bubble, in your own little world and you don’t think the outside world really cares, and then something like this happens, and you have everyone that cares,” he said. “Hundreds of people.”
The nonprofit donated $500 to the family Saturday.
Justin Neal, one of Nathan’s coworkers at Mustang Special Utility District, was one of the organizers of the barbecue.
“It’s what we do for a family in need,” Neal said.
About four groups smoked meat and cooked sides to fill up plates and containers that those attending purchased.
Steffani Martinez and Stormi McCandless were alternating between working the bake and art sales as well as the silent auction and ensuring Tasha had what she needed, whether a cold drink, a bear hug or a paper towel.
“This family has become good friends of mine and my family,” Chris McCandless, Stormi’s father, said in a break between songs. “Glad I got to be a little part of it.”
Chris played country songs under a large umbrella as people picked up barbecue, checked out their baked good options and played cornhole.
By the end of the day, the event drew in about $4,300.