Phenix City boy with terminal brain cancer celebrates birthday with surprise party

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 9:18 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2023 at 9:59 AM CST
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PHENIX CITY, ALa. (WTVM) - A 12-year-old is defying the odds as he suffers from a terminal illness. He was celebrated at Phenix City Intermediate School, the school he would’ve attended this school year but couldn’t due to sickness.

The day was a day Kemari Willis and his family will never forget. Kemari turned 12-years-old on Nov. 16, an age many thought he would never see.

“It’s beautiful. I don’t take any moment for granted,” said Kanavis Willis, Kemari’s father.

His father says in March, they received the diagnosis that his son had Diffuse Midline Gliomas, a cancerous and aggressive form of brain cancer.

Kanavis said he was in shock when he found out.

“It was kinda like you in a dark room, and everything is kinda like closing in on you,” he said.

According to his father, Kemari’s showed no symptoms before the diagnosis.

“We went from throwing the football that Sunday to Monday afternoon sometime he was feeling sick in school,” said Kanavis.

Students and staff of Phenix City Intermediate School gathered to welcome Kemari.

They celebrated his 12th birthday with a parade, balloons, snacks and signs of support.

Jazariah Willis helped Kemari blow out the candles on his birthday cake.

Jazariah is a 6th grader at Phenix City Intermediate School, but most importantly, she is Kemari’s cousin, and their birthdays are two days apart.

She reflected on memories of her and Kemari in school, and she said she knew Kemari was happy with the celebration.

“I’m glad that everybody was here celebrating him because I know what he’s been through,” Jazariah said

Plans to make the day memorable started in September with a call from Kemari’s father to have a small celebration with the students who would have been in his class.

Principal Shawn Taylor worked to get approval because he said usually they aren’t allowed to do cupcakes and things like this because of their policy, but he knew this was a unique situation.

Once they received approval, 6th-grade teacher Lindsey Greer went to work to make this a memorable event.

Kemari would have been one of Greer’s students this school year, but due to his terminal brain cancer he couldn’t attend the school.

“Just to see the giving spirit from my students that are in my classroom because I’ve been talking about this for a month. To see them all move into action has been such a blessing to me,” said Greer.

Kanavis said his son’s resistance is remarkable

“To know Kemari is to love Kemari because Kemari will light up whatever room he is in,” said his father.

Kanavis said their is holding onto hope and their faith as they take things day by day.

Many school officials say the planning of the event showed the community’s unity and compassion.

Throughout the celebration, you could see and feel the emotion and excitement, and that Kemari’s journey has truly inspired the community.

If you would like to support Kemari and his family, click here for Kemari’s GoFundMe.