The Honorable Pete Olson, former U.S. Congressman and long-time resident of Fort Bend County wrote a feature story in the Fort Bend Focus for Childhood Cancer Awareness month featuring Alyssa Ferguson and Faris Virani. The regular “Fort Bend Strong” column is a highlight of the magazine.
The text of the article follows….
Childhood Cancer Creating Fort Bend Strong Warriors
Posted on Sep 28, 2021 in FORT BEND STRONG
Warning! My column this month may make you cry. My eyes have watered a lot as I’ve been writing. As parents of two amazing children, Nancy and I have been truly blessed. Kate and Grant are happy and healthy adults. We thank God every day for these blessings. We have never heard the four most frightful words a parent can hear: “Your child has cancer.” We have friends who have heard these horrifying words. These incredible neighbors have held their child as he or she breathed their last breath before going to heaven. These parents watched their amazing child use their last days on earth to make our world a better place. They saw their loving child show exactly what it means to be Fort Bend Strong!
July was Sarcoma Awareness Month. Sarcoma is called “the forgotten cancer” and is a cancer of our body’s connective tissue. It can occur in nerves, muscles, tendons, joints, bones, fat and blood vessels. Sarcoma is much more likely to attack children than older adults.
Despite being very rare, Ewing Sarcoma is the second most common bone cancer in children. On average, about 300 kids are diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma per year in the United States. A few years ago, my fellow Rice Owls, Sugar Land neighbors and dear friends, Dr. Asha Virani and her husband, Farid were told that their young son, Faris, had aggressive Ewing Sarcoma. Faris was only six-years-old.
Incredibly, Faris responded to his Ewing Sarcoma diagnosis with a new mission for his life. He told Asha and Farid that he was going to be the one to cure Ewing Sarcoma! Faris could not believe that no real research to cure Ewing Sarcoma had been done since the 1950s. Faris was personally going to fill that research void. Faris is Fort Bend Strong!
At the start, Faris was asymptomatic with only a low-grade fever of 99’F. He was in no pain. When he finally received a CAT scan, the results were frightening; Ewing Sarcoma was in every bone in his body. It didn’t matter to Faris – he had a new life mission. He raised $1,000 for Ewing Sarcoma research. He put all that money into his tiny piggybank and told Asha and Farid that he was going to use every penny to “open a research center.” Those words became reality. Faris’ parents and friends gave $2 million to start the “Faris D. Virani Ewing Sarcoma Center” at Texas Children’s Hospital. It is the only dedicated Ewing Sarcoma center in the United States. Faris was at the ribbon cutting ceremony on February 13th, 2014.
Before Faris left us after nine glorious years, he had one more task to finalize his efforts to end Ewing Sarcoma. Faris had observed that many cancers had colored ribbons – breast cancer has pink ribbons, pancreatic cancer has purple ribbons, etc. Faris thought that Ewing Sarcoma should have its own colored ribbon. So, “Let There Be Gold” was born. Mission accomplished. My puppy, Maisy, and I are proudly “Letting There Be Gold” in Faris’ honor and legacy. Faris Virani is and will always be Fort Bend Strong.
And since September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I’d like to also share the story of an incredible young lady who I discovered while I was in Congress. Two short days after Alyssa Ferguson turned 12-years-old, she and her parents were informed that she had “medulloblastoma” – brain cancer that was likely terminal. Alyssa fought her cancer for three years. Sadly, she put on Angel’s Wings on January 26th, 2017, at her home in Missouri City with her parents, Sandy and Scott, by her side.
Sandy and Scott knew that they raised a daughter who had an unbounded love of life. They knew Alyssa always cared more about others than herself. But, no one could see what Alyssa was going to do to make her short life matter. As Alyssa’s battle waged on, she was approached by our wonderful, local Make-A-Wish Foundation about her personal and likely final wish. Usually, people in these situations focus on themselves. Common wishes are “I want to go to Disneyworld” or “I want meet a famous sports hero” or “I want to go to Hawaii and lie in the sun on a tropical beach.” These wishes are completely normal and understandable. They are human. If I was in Alyssa’s situation, I most likely would have made a wish for myself. Many of us would do that as well. Not Alyssa – Alyssa is Fort Bend Strong!!!
As a young girl, Alyssa had read a book called, A Long Walk for Water. It was about Sudanese children walking miles just to get drinking water. That story never stopped inspiring Alyssa. Facing her own mortality, Alyssa asked Sandy if her wish could be given to others. Sandy and Scott supported their daughter. Make-A-Wish supported Alyssa’s wish, too. So, Alyssa’s wish was used to build a drinking well for a small village in Africa. What started out as one well in Zimbabwe has now grown to three drinking water wells in Myanmar, one in India, one in Haiti, and one in Kenya, with one under construction in war-torn South Sudan. Alyssa dreamed of taking a drink of water from one of her wells, but when her condition prevented her from traveling, she told her mom, “They need water now. Go ahead and build it without me, and we’ll get to visit later.” Alyssa had a calling. Her name, “Alyssa Janae,” means “God has answered.” Amen. During her short, incredible life, Alyssa answered God’s calling for people in need in Africa and Asia. Alyssa Janae is Fort Bend Strong!
I hope you were inspired and grateful for Faris and Alyssa. Please wear a gold ribbon for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month every September. Faris’ parents set up the Faris Virali Foundation to help end Ewing Sarcoma at http://www.thefarisfoundation.org. Maybe you can sign up to play in next year’s Faris Foundation Brighter Days Golf Classic.
Alyssa’s story is immortalized with a display at our local Make-A-Wish office at 12625 Southwest Freeway in Stafford. If you want to help Alyssa drill more water wells, her parents set up the Alyssa World Challenge at http://www.alyssasfund.com. Check it out, and stay Fort Bend Strong!
That’s all for this month. I hope Faris’ and Alyssa’s stories of perseverance and love for others touched your heart. If you have a Fort Bend Strong story, please zip me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If your email is political, it is instantly deleted.
Until next month, we are Fort Bend Strong!
The link to the original story can be found here.