A Brother’s Love: Teen Brings Terminally Ill Sister To Formal

O'Gorman High School freshman AJ Spader finds the perfect date

We first introduced you to 10-year-old Rebekah Spader in July 2015. The little girl is battling a terminal illness with more courage and more bravery than most of us could ever imagine.

Rebekah was born with HSAN, a hereditary disorder that attacks her nervous system. Then, nearly six years later came a devastating diagnosis called Myelodysplastic Syndrome.

After finding out that treatment is not working, she made a bucket list, which included her Wish Gift Concert in July where she raised $20,000 for Make-A-Wish South Dakota.

Fast forward seven months to this past weekend. Rebekah got out of her hospital bed just in time to put on her formal dress. Because on Sunday night she got to do something most 10-year-olds only dream about thanks to her brother’s selfless love.

“I would be broken if you weren’t my sister because you taught me how to be brave and I’d be blessed if you went to formal with me,” AJ read his poster out loud.

Being a high school freshman is hard. It’s an awkward time and there are a lot of “firsts.” So when formal and prom season roll around, most teenage boys feel pressure to find the perfect date. Fifteen-year-old AJ Spader didn’t have to look far. He asked his little sister Rebekah to formal. Something that’s not as easy as you would think.

“I was nervous, yeah,” AJ admitted.

So AJ fell back on the Spader family motto: Broken. Brave. Blessed. They’ve leaned on that since Rebekah was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or pre-leukemia, and had a bone marrow transplant four years ago.

“It’s been hard but we get through it as a family, so that makes it easier,” AJ said.

When they learned last year that Rebekah’s transplant failed, those three words became their backbone.

“It helps you survive. I mean, just realizing the facts, you know, we are broken. The family has been brave,” dad Tony Spader said.

While Rebekah’s bravery shines through in even the smallest ways, one could say AJ is a brave kid too.

“AJ was able to kind of look past himself and what he would want and try and give her, Rebekah, an experience that she’s not going to be able to have because she probably won’t make it to her high school years,” Tony added.

So they’re doing the high school stuff now. From hair to make-up, and the mandatory mob of mom-photographers, they know moments like this are meant to be cherished.

“The fun days when they get to do what they want to do and things seem normal even though the last two days we were in the hospital wondering if she was going to make it. Days she looks normal and seems normal are the days that we treasure,” Tony said.

Because this life lesson goes beyond tying a tie or pairing the right dress socks with your suit.

“The only reason it’s happening is because of the inevitable with Rebekah, but it makes me have a really happy mom heart knowing that maybe we’ve done something right raising kids that put other people first,” mom Stephanie Spader said.

A mom heart that’s about to burst thanks to an inspirational little girl and the love of a big brother.