Iowa boy's generosity during cancer battle inspires random acts of kindness

Boy, 8, passed away Monday

Jacob Flesher sits with his mother at University Hospitals in Iowa City in 2012. Flesher, who was diagnosed with a Wilms
Jacob Flesher sits with his mother at University Hospitals in Iowa City in 2012. Flesher, who was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor in December of 2010, passed away Monday. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

In eight short years, Jacob Flesher not only exhibited generosity well beyond his age but inspired it in others.

And now, after a three-year battle with cancer, those who knew and heard about the brave little boy and rallied around him and his family as his health declined are determined to keep his happy, giving, spirit alive.

It all started in Aug. 2011 when Flesher, of Manchester, decided to collect toys for other children at the hospital while he was in remission. At the time, the shy 7-year-old was just coming off of surgery, 11 weeks of radiation, and 32 weeks of chemotherapy treatment for Wilm's Tumor, a rare kidney cancer that primarily occurs in children.

Flesher's battle with cancer ended on Monday, but his bravery and selflessness has motivated others to do acts of kindness in his memory. 

After hearing about him one way or another, many began tracking Flesher's progress on the family's Facebook page, "Jacob's Ladder." As Flesher continued to beat the odds of his disease, Mary Kenyon, Flesher's grandmother, said his story began to spread, with one status updates reaching thousands of people.

"I knew something amazing was happening, and that his story was touching the lives of friends, family, and complete strangers all over the world," Kenyon said in an email. "A woman in another state had begun an animal rescue league in his honor, mothers were hugging their children more frequently and reaching out to this little family in Iowa. The little boy who rarely spoke but whose eyes and smile tugged at the heartstrings of complete strangers was making a difference in the lives of others."

When a status update announcing Flesher's death on reached 41,000 people on Monday, Kenyon said she got goosebumps imagining what kind of impact one short life could have on the world.

"I immediately knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to use Jacob's death to make this world a better place. I wanted to be kinder, more generous. I wanted to be like Jacob. I will do things, little "random acts of kindness" in his honor, and leave a card asking the recipient of my kind act to do the same," Kenyon said.

After ordering some cards for herself and her family, Kenyon posted the cards to the Facebook page. Since then, she's ordered more than 1,000 to meet the demand from family, people who followed Flesher's progress and local businesses alike.

"If one little person can touch the lives of 41,000 people, just think what we can do by reaching out to others in his memory," Kenyon said.

Elizabeth Flesher, Jacob's mother, said social media was a wonderful way to receive support throughout her son's illness, as the family was able to put updates out there for everyone to read rather than returning phone calls or relaying the same information to several people. But she also said it also helped to write through the emotions, and share them with other readers who have been through the same thing.

Most of all, Elizabeth Flesher said her son has inspired her and her family to live everyday with joy and peace, and to be strong in the face of adversity.

"Jacob stood for all that is good. He came into this world and taught me more about life than I could have ever taught him," Flesher said. "Jacob changed a little piece of this world for the better."Jacob's obituary is available here.

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