“Never Ever Give Up”: The Jessie Rees Story

“Never Ever Give Up”: The Jessie Rees Story

“Never Ever Give Up”

How would you react to the news you have an inoperable brain tumor? Let me pose the question again. What if you were eleven years old and were told you had an inoperable brain tumor? How would you cope with such devastating news?

Jessica Joy Rees received this heartbreaking diagnosis in March of 2011. I met Jessie’s “daddy”, Erik Rees, through my service in the Memorial Ministry at Saddleback Church where he is a pastor. I listened to Pastor Rees speak and comfort families during the most difficult times of their lives. Never did I imagine such a reversal of roles.

News of Jessie’s condition took a long time to adversely affect me. Our church has prayed through cancer and brain tumors before. This would be another opportunity to praise God’s healing or so I thought. I followed Jessie’s journal on Facebook. I thanked God on the days she reported the MRI’s had shown some improvement. My heart ached for her and her family when her reports did not sound encouraging. Even when Jessie was having bad days her bright spirit leaped off the pages of her journal. Jessie lost her battle with this dreadful disease on January 5, 2012.

Jessie did not let what was going on inside of her body affect her outlook on life. She proved that she was given the middle name of Joy for a reason. Even while she was being poked and prodded she was thinking of others. Her main concern was finding a way to spread hope, joy and love to other children battling pediatric cancer.

And so, Joy Jars were born. Jessie wanted to fill jars with toys and activities that would bring children battling cancer joy. While she was well enough to do so, Jessie stuffed and delivered Joy Jars to children in the hospital.


Jessie’s innocent gesture has grown into the Jessie Rees Foundation – Team NEGU. NEGU is Jessie’s motto of “Never Ever Give Up”. Due to the generous support of sponsors such as Build-A-Bear, Chick-fil-A, UPS, Marriott and Veggie Tales, Joy Jars have reached 115 Children’s hospitals and 175 Ronald McDonald Houses.

Although I never met Jessie personally, I can’t help but feel that I knew her through her journal. Her “daddy” Erik has continued this journal.  Jessie’s family  invited us into their lives to pray for their daughter and now allow us to grieve the loss of Jessie along with them.

Jessie continues to inspire me on a daily basis. I was fortunate to be in attendance for her Celebration of Life Service. The Worship Center of Saddleback Church was filled to capacity and there was overflow into multiple other venues.

I consider Jessie to be an inspiration for the following reasons;

Her trust in God – This is a time when even the strongest of faiths may be tested. She loved God and trusted him with her illness. I find this amazing for an eleven-year old child.

Her concern for others – I can’t think of a better time for a child to be justified in being selfish. This was not the way God made Jessie. She wanted other children to experience hope, love and joy.

Her continuing legacy – The Jessie Rees Foundation continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Jessie’s dream was for every child battling cancer to have a Joy Jar. Through continuing sponsorships and donations her dream is rapidly coming to fruition.

Jessie’s much too short life was not in vain. God had a plan for her. Without her, children around our nation would not be receiving a dose of joy in the hospital.  I believe this helps them to feel less alone during a scary time.


How has cancer affected your life?

Have you known someone like Jessie who focused on others during their health battle?

If you would like to Donate to the NEGU Foundation click here.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Connie says:

    Good job you did in writting such a Beautiful story. It is so hard to believe such courage and love for people that this young little Angel had. It is just sad more people young and old could not be like Jessie.

  2. Sharon Watkins says:

    Great article Lori. Cancer is not something I have personally experienced yet and pray that I never do, but this was an amazing story of unselfishness, love, concern and joy in the midst of trial. A great reminder and example to all of us. Thank you for sharing….Sharon

    • Lori Bristol says:

      Thank you so much Sharon.
      I have watched friends go through cancer treatments and surgeries. Very fortunately they are all doing well.
      I am glad you also noticed that Jessie is a great role model to all of us.
      Glad you are enjoying the blog.

      Thanks again,

  3. Mark says:

    Lori….Thanks for the reminder that no matter how difficult life gets……never, ever give up….Mark

  4. Lori Bristol says:


    Thank you for your candid comments.

    Cancer is a tough word period and affects everyone for various reasons. Whether you have battled it yourself or watched someone close to you lose their battle, the “C” word leaves scars in it’s path.

    I think of Jessie every day. I never even met her and that is the impact she had on me. I have NEGU photo letters that Kasey made hanging in my bedroom.
    I needed to tell this story because it has been on my heart for months.

    Thank you for reading,

  5. Jeff Turner says:


    Thanks for sharing this story. It stirs up so many things for me. I think her ability to remain focused outside her own circumstances is the most amazing part. In the midst of such trial, there are many other things that we may tend to move to instead. Many of us would choose inward things that lead to depression, isolation fear and despair. Her tendency to look outward in the midst of this disaster is something I don’t do even in the best circumstances. What a testament to her God, faith and family.

    Others might look at this and say, “See, prayer doesn’t work. God isn’t listening.” In my own journeys I see death as God’s ultimate healing. That may sound like an excuse giving God a pass but I believe we have no idea what God intended for us and just how much He desires our best beyond our ability to understand. Our worldview can be so limited. On my better days I choose a view that inspired this lyric in one of my favorite songs about heaven.

    “There’s a land so far away

    Where ageless children play

    And everything is real
In this land of make believe…”

    And so I hope and have faith. Faith being the confidence of things we hope for will actually happen. It is the assurance of things we cannot see.

    Thank you for sharing this story Lori. It’s a tough one.


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