LAKE STEVENS — It was a royal gathering on the north edge of Lake Stevens.
Disney princesses and comic book superheroes roamed Lundeen Park on March 6, waving at passersby as a community came together to support a local family in need.
Even Darth Vader crossed over from the dark side for the cause.
At the center of attention were Bethany and Jon Erickson and their daughter, Madelynne, a 7-year-old.
Bethany, 35, was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, a rare condition that causes tumor growth, in 2016. She became paralyzed this past December. Her diagnosis is terminal.
The need for a wheelchair-accessible van and uncertainty over future medical bills have led to the family selling possessions — including a fully paid-off, two-year old Toyota Prius and a Kia Sorento. They’ve also had to clear out Bethany’s 401K and use money from personal savings.
“We had to trade that all in to try and fund whatever we could to meet our needs in our current situation,” Jon said. “She’s always hated the idea of being in a minivan and always swore to me that she’d never be in a minivan. But here we are getting a minivan for her needs. It’s kind of ironic.”
When Bethany received her cancer diagnosis, doctors weren’t sure what time frame the family was looking at. Neuorendocrine cancer typically is found in older patients and can affect many different parts of the body.
Despite the uncertainty, Bethany remained strong.
“She has tried to be the ray of light that guided us to hang on to hope,” Jon said. “It was always that optimism that tried to keep us convinced that we would all get together through this in one piece.”
Eventually, the Ericksons were told she would not make it through her battle. The cancer had spread from her reproductive organs to her lungs, brain and spine.
“It was a pretty hard day,” Jon said. “But she still faces it with courage and bravery every day.”
It started with a Facebook post
Jon was looking for food-storage containers on a Lake Stevens “Buy Nothing” Facebook page where people can post goods they’re looking to part with.
He needed the containers so his wife had an easily accessible place to store items near her bedside.
The post caught the eye of a Karin Reed, a special education preschool teacher in the Lake Stevens School District. She offered to buy the family the containers. Jon declined. He didn’t want anyone to go through the trouble of purchasing things for his family.
Reed didn’t know the family personally, but she knew she wanted to do something to help. So she started to do a little digging on Facebook.
“This is a family that needed love and support,” Reed said, “and they weren’t one to overly ask for it.”
Reed soon discovered she and the Ericksons shared mutual friends. Her neighbor used to work with Jon, and her son attended the Magnolia Autism Center in Snohomish where Bethany once worked.
She reached out again to see what she could do. After a little reservation, Jon decided to let Reed put something together.
‘A snowball effect’
Reed set up a GoFundMe page for the family on Feb. 28 with a goal of raising $35,000 to help the Ericksons. As of Friday morning, donations totaled over $11,000.
She also reached out to her co-worker, Tiffany Monoea, who works as a psychologist in the Lake Stevens School District. Monoea’s son, Max, was one of a handful of Lake Stevens High School football players who attended a birthday party dressed as superheroes for a young boy whose mom was battling cancer. They wanted to set up something similar, but superheroes didn’t quite fit the bill for an event for a family with a young daughter with a love for princesses.
Tiffany reached out to Kennadee Nelson, a senior on the Lake Stevens volleyball team, to see if she and her teammates would join the cause and dress up as princesses for a fundraiser to help support the family.
The Lake Stevens volleyball team was quick to jump on board and started ordering outfits for the event.
“It was heartbreaking obviously,” Nelson said of receiving the message about the family. “I felt really bad for the family, but I also felt like this was a really good opportunity for our volleyball team to do something to give back to our community. For Lake Stevens especially, we get a lot of support for our sports, and I just thought that there’s nothing better than for us to do something to help that family and make (Bethany) feel special when that’s probably the hardest thing she’s ever going to go through.
“Especially for her daughter, we really wanted to do something special for her. … So we just thought nothing would make her mom and dad happier than seeing her happy during such a hard time.”
Nelson couldn’t secure a princess outfit in time for the event and donned a Wonder Woman costume at the fundraiser. Teammates Karli Tri (dressed as Aurora), Piper Smith (Ariel), Michelle Fast (Snow White), Kylie Ascher (Belle), Anna Schroedl (Anna), Maddie Isinger (Cinderella), Kennedy Steen (Elsa) and Hayli Tri (Moana) joined the cause.
“It was honestly just a really humbling experience for all of us to see that — not necessarily as a volleyball team — but as a community what we can get done for one family,” Nelson said.
Members of the Lake Stevens football team and cheerleading squad joined, as well.
“Once the football and volleyball players caught wind of it, it kind of took on a snowball effect,” Reed said. “Suddenly we went from having this idea on Saturday (Feb. 27) and it becoming a reality the next Saturday.”
Tiffany Monoea also reached out to Lake Stevens Mayor Brett Gailey, who was able to get local police and firefighters involved. They provided a light show as they drove through the park.
“It’s just so overwhelming to see that type of support and outpouring of love,” Jon Erickson said. “It was a lot more than we expected. I know that my wife is just one of those people that naturally draws people to her. That’s kind of what drew me to her. But to the extent of how far the reach has gotten, it was just so overwhelming.”
For his daughter, the day was a unique experience that will carry even more meaning as she gets older.
“She will understand the support that her mother had,” he said. “I know that right now it’s kind of a special feeling that she’s getting as far as just having some fun and enjoying the moment and the spotlight. But I think later she’ll understand the type of support and what it takes for that sort of outpouring of love to affect the family.”
A giving spirit
Bethany and Jon Erickson met at a Starbucks. She was a supervisor at the store. He worked as a repair tech who fixed machines used by the company.
“As I got to know her and heard from her friends about who she was, I was just kind of drawn in,” Jon said. “Everyone around her just absolutely adored her. She was just this person who was willing to do anything for anyone. She was strong and courageous and just looked out for everybody.”
When he found out Bethany also worked with autistic children, it was an even further indication that she was somebody he wanted to get to know more about. She had also spent time working at an adult care home.
One day Jon ran across her Facebook page and discovered they shared the same alma mater, Seattle Pacific University. That sparked a conversation and a romance soon after.
They started dating in 2012 and brought their daughter into the world a couple years later. The couple got married in 2016, shortly before they received the diagnosis.
“She’s the type of person … if she has a sandwich and someone else is hungry, then she’ll give the sandwich to that person,” Jon said. “She just gives whatever she needs to give in order to take care of people. It was overwhelming to see that type of generosity and love and care that she had.”
He added: “She’s just a courageous and giving spirit that everyone loves and adores.”
The Lake Stevens community displayed that same giving spirit as it rallied around Bethany and her family.
“I think the most important thing is just the amount of love a community can show for people they barely know or people they know through friends of friends,” Jon said. “I think it’s a good sign of just a really great community.”