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It was a night of treats for a very sick North Carolina boy who got to celebrate Halloween early with the help of his community and a big boost of sweets from a couple of Panthers — the football kind.
North Carolina quarterback Cam Newton paid a surprise visit to the block party set up by several dozen neighbors of 10-year-old Elijah Aschbrenner, who has a rare form of cancer called epithelioid sarcoma.
The boy learned last week the disease had spread and that he might not make it to Halloween, so his community immediately rallied to throw him a party in honor of his favorite holiday. A professional makeup artist painted Elijah's face and helped get him into costume.
A few days earlier, Newton had called Elijah to say hello and help lift his spirits, but he caught everyone off guard when he showed up at Friday night's party — bringing with him an ice cream truck and 22 boxes of Elijah’s favorite dessert, brownies from Papa John’s Pizza.
Newton also brought dinner for the event, including steak, shrimp and various sides such as mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.
Becky Hughes, Elijah’s mom, said she started bawling as soon as she saw Newton.
“I just lost it, knowing he was a busy guy but he took time out on a Friday night to come and see Elijah? I started crying, and he was like, ‘Dry it up, Momma!’” she recalled with a chuckle.
Hughes said while all the neighborhood kids immediately clamored for Newton’s attention, he first made sure he could spend some one-on-one time with her son.
Newton’s teammate, defensive tackle Colin Cole, who has long supported Elijah’s battle, also was at the party, to which he donated a video-gaming truck.
“It was an absolutely magical night,” Hughes told TODAY. “It was emotional to see everyone come together for Elijah, just knowing how much he loves Halloween. It was one of those nights that none of us will ever forget, and it meant the world to us.“
Last week, the family learned that Elijah’s cancer had spread into his chest wall, Hughes said.
“We don’t know how long any of us have, but the doctors were only estimating three to four weeks based on the rapid growth of his cancer,” she said.
Hughes said the family is spending every moment together with Elijah and his younger brother, Sam, who turned 9 on Monday.
“It’s a completely horrible situation for any family, but we have faith, and we have 50,000 prayer warriors that are lifting us up and sending prayers our way. That's the only thing that’s getting me through the day," she said.
Her family has also been heartened by the outpouring of support being sent by people whom they do not know but who have heard about Elijah's battle.
"These complete strangers are reaching out and opening their hearts to us," she said. "God is definitely working."
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