In August of 2010, the Leonard family was dealt a blow that nobody had seen coming. Jeffrey, who graduated from Lower Moreland High School in 2002, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed surgery right away.
“The first few months dealing with it were the toughest,” Jeffrey said. “Just the fear of what’s going to be. As time went on, I just talked to a lot of people and I was reading a lot and the main thing is just trying to think positive, doing things you enjoy and just keeping your mind in a positive state. That’s the key and it’s really helped.”
On November 3rd, thousands gathered outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art to run or walk to show their support for those affected by brain tumors. Jeffrey’s specific team, “Well Wishes for Jeffrey,” has been one of the most successful teams in terms of fundraising. Last year, the group raised more than $40,000 and almost $20,000 this time around.
“It’s overwhelming,” Jeffrey said. “We have these events and we have more than 400 people show up. It makes you feel like you’re not alone. Nobody is unaffected by this disease. Everybody at least knows someone or has been affected by it in some way. So to see all the support that we get is really a good feeling.”
Jeffrey said he owes a lot to his sister, Ashley, a student at Temple University. She has been a big part of the fundraising effort since the Leonard family started to participate for the cause.
“I don’t know what I would do without them by my side,” Jeffrey said. “They just give me that will to keep fighting. I’m Ashley’s older brother but I actually look up to her. I’m proud of her for everything she does. She’s a great sister and it gives me more of a reason to fight to stay around for her and the family.”
“As soon as the surgery was over and everything settled down, we knew that we had to do something because we were so passionate about spreading awareness,” Ashley said. “He has a huge support system, which helps him cope with everything and since he’s been in remission, everything has been going pretty smoothly.”
Jeffrey and Ashley’s relationship has continued to grow over the past three years. Since Jeffrey’s diagnosis, the siblings continue to spend more and more time with each other, despite Ashley living at Temple.
“Honestly, my brother is my best friend,” Ashley said. “I don’t know what I’d do without him. We’re just so blessed that we figured out everything when we did because of how drastic the surgery was and how quick it had to happen. We were always close but it brought us even closer. Now I come home from school all the time, we’ll just go to a movie or hang out. I can tell him anything and he can tell me everything. We really are best friends and I’m really lucky to have that relationship in my life.”
According to National Brain Tumor Society and a Stanford University study, an estimated 70,000 people have been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2013. Of those living with a malignant (or deadly) tumor, there is a 32 percent survival rate.
Now, as Jeffrey continues to raise awareness for a cause that almost took his life, he’s able to look back at what kept him going after what could have been a death sentence three years ago. So much has changed for him.
“My whole perspective on life, really,” Jeffrey said. “Learning to live, not take for granted all the things in life . Living minute by minute instead of stressing about the future. I’ve learned that you’re not promised the future. You have to live in the moment. You never know when things are going to change.”