Community rallies behind parents fighting separate, aggressive cancers

MENLO PARK, California -- If the walls in the Brinkerhoffs' Menlo Park, California home could talk, they would tell the story of community, gratitude, and perseverance.

On his birthday, May 5, 2018, Jason Brinkerhoff was diagnosed with an often fatal form of brain cancer. That same day, he underwent surgery to remove a large tumor.

Months later, on Jan. 9, 2019, his wife Heather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Their cancers complicated any plans to renovate their two-bedroom, one bathroom home in Menlo Park, so, their friends, family and church community came together and jumped into action.

"It was definitely a fixer-upper," Lisa Branson described. "With open walls and wires hanging out, and lots of things unfinished."

Branson is one of the dozens who helped turn the unfinished house into a family home.

The assistance was a huge help to the Brinkerhoffs, as both are self-employed. Jason is an artist and Heather is a personal trainer.

"They're fighters and they're just full of grace and humor," Branson told ABC7 News. "It's been amazing to watch that part of them, but it's been very painful at the same time."

Their growing support system donated talent, time, equipment, appliances and money to finish work around the house.

The help became a true labor of love for the couple and their 4-year-old son, Lucian.

"He understands that we're sick," Heather told ABC7 News in a FaceTime interview. "But that's about the extent of it."

Their bright little boy is already missing his mom and dad.

"He and I were playing the other day and he goes, 'Daddy I miss you,'" Jason said. "And I just chose in that moment to take those words as a future gift -- that there will be a day when I won't be able to hear those words from my son."

"So now when I hear him say, 'I miss you,' it's something that will be special to me," he continued. "Almost a voice from the other side, because I won't last forever."

Heather explained that Lucian knows she has pain in her stomach, and that Jason has pain in his head.

As their cancers progress and their independence declines, the next step would be to finish a backyard unit for around-the-clock help.

"We kind of know what our prognoses are," Heather explained. "But we choose to stay off the internet for our sanity. But we know it's fairly grim for both of us, we're not ignorant to that."

Jason said he's realized his diagnosis isn't a death sentence.

"Because it woke me up to all the beautiful things I wanted to do in life," he said. "And it really changed the way that I looked at the world."

He said the disease has given him a new lease on life.

Jason hugged his wife, as he explained, "I learn new things from her every day, just watching her navigate a very complicated situation."

Heather added, "I have learned that there's very little in life that you can control, and before all this happened, I thought I could control a lot more."

She explained that when Jason first got diagnosed, his cancer gave the family a "shot of reality of our mortality."

Both acknowledged the situation is horrible. "We have just been so touched by the generosity of other people, and that's what we choose to focus on," Heather said.

When it comes to their Menlo Park home, Jason shared, "It's the house that I wanted to raise my son in, it's the house that I wanted to grow old in. I don't know if I'll get to do the second part, but the house was a triumph just to be able to get this far."

Branson told ABC7 News, "There's not two people that have shown more appreciation, more generosity for what's being given to them, but also there aren't two people that have given more to the people that are around them."

"I've learned through watching them, that love could get people through a lot," Branson said.

About the effort by family, friends and the community, Branson said, "There hasn't been one person or one small group. There's been dozens and dozens and dozens. I couldn't even tell you who's in charge of it."

"It's just this beautiful weaving of this incredible tapestry that I think encircles their incredible family right now and they're so grateful for it," Branson said about the work.

Heather had this message for the team of loved ones, lending their support, "I hope to be able to spread that and to pass it onto my son, and hopefully I live long enough to pay it forward someday. But just, thank you."

There is a GoFundMe page for Heather and Jason that can be found here.

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