Josie: I am brave. I am strong

Josie Brown, 9, an incoming third-grader at Huntingburg Elementary recently learned she has cancer. Saturday, she was given the opportunity to ride horses at Freedom Reins in Jasper for the first time. Photos by Matthew Crane.

Josie Brown is a bit apprehensive as the two miniature ponies approach her.

That apprehension relaxes a bit as she and her sister, Daizee, along with a friend, Yvonne Hochgesang, begin to warm up to the ponies while the volunteers at Freedom Reins bring out another three horses for the sisters to pick from for their first rides.

You can tell that Josie doesn’t like being the center of attention. She has a hard time letting a smile surface on her face as she tentatively reaches out to pet and brush on Dundee. But there are moments when the joy of being next to the pony overwhelms the apprehension and shyness.

Josie introduced her little sister, Reylynn, and mom, Nakea, to Dundee at Freedom Reins on Saturday.

Courage and confidence reassert themselves when Josie’s mom, stepdad, grandmother (mimi) and youngest sister, Reylynn appear in the barn and she takes on her role as the oldest of Nakea Brown’s children. Josie introduces them to the ponies and begins to smile more in her renewed role.

A few minutes later, Josie makes her slow way over to a ramp and platform pushing her walker through the rubber mulch to meet Scotty, a quarterhorse whose painted coat reminds her of a cow.

The walker is a new addition to the nine-year-old Huntingburg girl’s life.

Josie was apprehensive as she was assisted onto Scotty’s back. The pair quickly bonded though and she became comfortable riding him around with help from the staff and volunteers at Freedom Reins.

In early June, Josie was playing outside and fell hurting her leg. “It looked fine,” Nakea said. “We put ice on it. It wasn’t even bleeding or anything.”

The pain subsided after a day or two but then came back worse so Nakea and her fiancé, Tyler, took her to urgent care. During the exam, they felt that the pain may be from something else; they suspected cancer and sent Josie to meet with an orthopedic surgeon.

The surgeon confirmed Josie’s suspected diagnosis. She had a large growth — osteosarcoma — on the femur of her right leg. According to Nakea, the cancer covered the whole bone.

Two weeks ago, Josie went to Riley’s to have a port put in her chest and begin the first of ten rounds of chemotherapy. The family stays in Indianapolis for five to seven days for each round. When Josie finishes the rounds of chemo, surgeons plan on removing her right leg at just below her hip.

“They are kinda worried because they saw some spots on her lungs,” Nakea explained. “They are going to keep an eye on that but we are trying our best to get through our daily lives.”

Josie and Scotty weave through a series of poles with the help of Freedom Reins volunteers, Nancy Eckerle (back) and Paula Anderson.

Nakea described Josie as bubbly and outgoing. A big sister who loves to play with Reylynn and spend time with her grandmother, Juanita Brown, whom she calls Mimi. She likes to sing and enjoys watching her favorite Youtuber, MeganPlays, as she plays Roblox an immersive, videogame that allows you to work and play cooperatively with players/developers all over the world.

She has it set in her mind that she wants to be a police officer when she grows up so she can help people.

She loves to swim but is worried about getting the new port in her chest wet. She is also concerned that kids may make fun of her when she loses her hair from the chemo.

In the midst of this Josie’s battle, the family also received recent news that the rental home they live in has been sold and they have to move out by the first week of August. In the midst of weekly appointments for Josie and biweekly trips to Indianapolis for chemotherapy, the added complication of finding a new place to live has brought chaos into Huntingburg family’s life.

Family and friends have been following Josie’s journey on a Facebook Page set up by Nakea since learning about the cancer. When Nakea posted that Josie’s spirits were down, Yvonne, the speech pathologist at Huntingburg Elementary, wanted to see if she could help Josie smile. She reached out to Freedom Reins and was able to arrange the special ride that Josie took part in on Saturday.

In the midst of this fight against cancer and her family’s search for a new home, Josie made friends with Scotty as she rode outside in a corral taking him through obstacles and ramps. It was her first time riding a horse and it was Scotty’s first time traversing some of the obstacles. The pair bonded and Josie smiled.

Josie said the experience at Freedom Reins was awesome.

Josie wants to learn gymnastics and is set on doing it even after the surgery.

“Even with this roadblock, she still has it in her mind she knows she will get it accomplished,” Nakea said.

She and Josie have a special practice they use to help when their spirits get down.

“We take a deep breath in and out,” Nakea said. “We say these words. ‘I am brave, and I am strong. And, I can get through anything if I put my head to it.'”

They are looking for a home and have launched a Gofundme page to help pay for the weekly trips to Riley’s Children’s Hospital. A Facebook page, Josie’s Cancer Journey, has also been set up for those who want to follow her progress.