The Austin Shepherd Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for sarcoma cancer, and providing encouragement to children coping with life threatening illnesses, and their families.
Love saves lives.
In 2011, during their time at the University of Alabama, Austin and Jenna Shepherd started the Austin Shepherd Foundation in honor of Jenna's brother, the late Jonathan Gus King. Since 2011, Austin and Jenna have funded the Beads of Courage program at Children's of Alabama. In 2015 Austin was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. They are expanding their support to University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
The Austin Shepherd Foundation arranges hospital visits by local celebrities, provides football tickets to patients and their families, sponsors the Beads of Courage encouragement program, and funds cancer research.
My brother, Jon King, was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma when he was 9. It is a type of sarcoma cancer that accounts for about 1% of all childhood cancers. It can occur in any bone, but most often begins in the leg bones and hipbones, as well as the bones in the arms, chest, skull and spine. Common side effects include fever, bone pain, bruising, and swelling. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to survival, but because many illnesses can cause the same symptoms as Ewing's (as is the case with other types of sarcoma cancers), it is often missed in the early stages.
My brother, Jon, started complaining of pain in his hip and leg when he was 9 years old after taking a fall off of a stool at the house. My mom took him to the doctor and were told it was nothing more than a simple bone bruise. After weeks of persisting pain, my mom took Jon back to the doctor and was told once again, "he has a very deep bruise, it should go away soon." At this point, my mom's instinct knew that it wasn’t “nothing”. She took him for a second opinion at a bone specialist, and that's where she heard the "D-word" in reference to Jon for the first time: "Diagnosis". It's the word that will make anyones heart stop. After much testing, they confirmed her worst nightmare: Jon had a rapidly growing bone cancer and he would "definitely" not live to see his teenage years because it was not caught in the early stages.
I remember my brother constantly getting better and worse over the course of my childhood. Even when he was healthy, regular doctors appointments were still necessary. When he would go into remission, Jon would have to go for checkups every month in Birmingham. Before every checkup, he and my dad would be so nervous that they would be nauseous.
Jon had the best attitude I've ever seen in someone who was fighting to survive. He loved football and basketball and went to as many games as he could. He had such a passion for life and always had a smile on his face. He was an awesome basketball player and was in the gym any time it was open; lifting and shooting hoops. When he couldn’t sleep, he would go to the 24-hour gym in Arab and work out, even if it was 3am. He played basketball even when he was taking chemo. Nobody could talk him out of it. He could knock down some three's. White boy could ball! He was an athlete in the truest sense of the word: competitive, hard working, determined.
The other side of Jon was his commitment to helping others. If you needed something, Jon would make sure you got it whether he knew you or not; that's just the kind of person he was. Kind, generous, compassionate, selfless, and full of love. One Christmas he went to the store and bought presents for every child who had written to the "Dear Santa" section of the newspaper. He was always doing for others, it was like it was instinctive. He never gave it a second thought.
I remember Jon for all of these things, but I remember him most of all for his faith. Every chance he got, he and my dad were at a prayer meeting. They were always praying and believing God for healing. I remember going outside one day and seeing Jon walking around the rocks near the flowerbeds just praying out loud for his healing. His eyes were closed, his hands were lifted, and it was just him and God. He was literally begging God for his life like I have never heard anyone do before. That same night I walked in on my dad lying in bed with his eyes closed repeating, “Thank you Jesus for healing my son, by Your stripes, he is healed”. We all prayed constantly for his healing. Jon loved God with all his heart. He was a fighter with faith to move mountains and we all knew that if anyone could survive this fight for his life, it would be him.
I will never forget this night as long as I live. My sister, Jill, had put me to bed in my parents room like she always did when mom and dad were in Birmingham with Jon. Around 1:30 am, my parents quietly snuck into the room and lay down beside me. Mom and Dad didn’t know I had woken up. I heard my dad say quietly, “I can’t believe my little boy is dead”. I remember feeling a tear roll down my cheek and into the pillow. I pretended I didn't hear anything and hoped with my whole heart that it was a nightmare. The next morning my parents told me that Jon had passed away, but that he is always standing over me to protect me. I fell over like someone had punched me in the stomach and stared at the ground in disbelief. The days following have been hard, even after so many years. Jon still lives in my heart and influences the things I do today. He is my guardian angel and he is the reason I want to help others. He is the reason for my unshaken faith in God. He is the reason I am the person I am today. He is the reason for the Austin Shepherd Foundation. Because of him, I want to help others find the same courage he found, and help their families find the same courage Jon instilled in me. I want to give them joy for today and hope for tomorrow. I hope you will join me and Austin in our efforts to improve and lengthen the lives of patients just like Jon, and their families.
- Jenna King-Shepherd
1083 Heritage Drive
Guntersville, AL 35976