"Jingle Bells" played on radios across Ohio. The local mall plastered "Merry Christmas" on its digital signs. And hundreds of people, in 90-degree weather, wore Santa hats as they caroled in front of one little boy's home. It's only September, but for a 2-year-old with terminal brain cancer, Christmas came early this year.
Colerain Township, a suburb of Cincinnati, celebrated the holiday this weekend because doctors say the boy, Brody Allen, wouldn't make it to December.
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Despite aggressive and painful chemotherapy, brain scans showed that Brody's five embryonal tumors were not responding to treatment. "The doctor had tears in his eyes as he was telling us," said his aunt, Dina Brock. "The poor boy had gone through so much in the hospital, but there wasn't any good news."
After Brody spent more than 90 days at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, much of it in the intensive care unit, the Allen family decided to bring him home. Painful radiation therapy would do little for his prognosis, doctors told the family, and "we wanted to do everything we could to let him live life," said Brock.
"He can't use the left side of his body, his speech has changed, and he has tremors," she said. But back at home, "he doesn't get down about it. He doesn't know what we know. He doesn't know he has cancer."
'Team Brody' goes viral
The family started a Facebook group, "Team Brody," to update loved ones on his status. Hoping to celebrate the holidays one last time with their son, the family made a post asking friends and family for Christmas lights.
That small request went viral, and more than 13,000 people have since joined the group, sending prayers from as far away as London and Paris. "The love and attention they're giving Brody is unbelievable," said Brock. "People are reaching out for no other reason than their good will."
Back at home, Brody's neighborhood soon turned into a winter wonderland. Inflatable snowmen lined the streets and garland hung from fences and front doors. Brody was the Grand Marshal of his own superhero-themed Christmas parade, which featured Santa riding a firetruck, cheerleaders and a dazzling fireworks display this past Sunday.
"When the parade started, my family was in the front row to see it all," said Amanda Hill, a Colerain Township resident who watched with her husband and twin children. "It was overwhelming and abundantly clear how much that little boy meant to the community."
A town comes together
In divisive times, Brody's story has brought family, friends and even strangers together.
"This is a community of people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities and genders coming together for Brody," said Matt Castleman, a pastor at the Crossroads West Side church outside of Cincinnati. Castleman, who studied musical theater, worked with local radio station WARM 98.5 to organize a flash mob on Saturday outside of Brody's home.
The Children's Theatre of Cincinnati provided reindeer and elf costumes, Castleman's church helped turn out singers, and the station took photos. Volunteers handed out lyric sheets at a local grocery store before consolidating cars and heading to Brody's neighborhood, where they distributed gifts and sang songs like "Silent Night" while holding hands.
"The Allen family knew that we were coming, but they were shocked when we showed up with hundreds of people," Castleman said. It was so hot, he added, that "you couldn't tell if people were crying or sweating."
The airwaves were blanketed with the holiday spirit, too. "We decided to play one Christmas song per hour with a shout out to Brody before every song, to help him celebrate with his family a little early," said Brian Demay, the program director at WARM 98.5.
'He definitely seems happier'
That support has meant the world to Brody, an outgoing boy who spent months in the ICU, where he often wasn't allowed to see his brothers or sisters. "He definitely seems happier to me," said Brock. "He loves people and he's not afraid of anyone."
"He's a flirt," she added. "He's a major flirt. He's flirting with any and everybody, but mostly the ladies."
And he has fans, too. Supporters have been using the hashtag #TeamBrody to send support to members of the Allen family, who have already raised more than $37,000 through a GoFundMe created to cover Brody's medical expenses. The boy's father, Todd Allen, wrote on Facebook that "the world collectively has reached out to hug our son."
"You have taught me that we are not bound together solely by our nationality, language, religion, culture, race, social or economic status," he said. "We are bound by our humanity."
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