NORTHERN VIRGINIA (WDVM) — Sara Willis died of brain cancer in 2018 at the age of 18. Her mom, Angie, says it was a surprise. “It seems weird to say that. She was on life support for 10 weeks and it shouldn’t have been a surprise but I always felt like she was going to come home. So losing Sara was so devastating.”
The following year, Willis founded Sara’s Acts of Kindness to raise money for pediatric cancer research. She says she turned a corner when she set up the nonprofit’s bank account in Sara’s name. “Hearing this bank teller say her name and realizing that doing this meant that her name was going to still be there… it was going to bring her back in a way.”
The nonprofit’s logo was inspired by Sara’s pet tortoise, named Jacob Edward for the Twilight saga. (She was so kind she couldn’t pick a team.)
“She made life more fun, she brought that kind of enthusiastic spirit everywhere,” Willis said. “She just had this ability to charm everyone. Everyone that met her just fell in love with her. She was just different. She had this spirit. She had this big, giant beautiful smile. The most amazing girl.”
Willis hopes to raise $180,000 over the next three years to aid Children’s National pediatric research through the Sara Willis Research Grant. The goal is to find treatments that increase the survival rate. Willis also wants to find ways to make kids more comfortable.
“She had chronic pain, she had chronic migraines, she had POTS [postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome], her dizziness was so bad that she fell down and broke her elbow,” Willis remembered. “She had a lot of lingering long-term side effects that made her life pretty miserable and then she relapsed.”
The organization is aiming to raise $21,000 for Sara’s 21st birthday: it’s the biggest fundraiser yet. Donate here.