A young Fallsburg boy who courageously fought a rare cancer for the past 19 months died from the disease on Thursday.
Xzaiver Witham was only 14. Before being diagnosed the summer after his sixth-grade year at Fallsburg Middle School, he was a happy-go-lucky student who could knock you down with his smile.
“The first thing I remember about him was his smile,” said Jamie Lester, the principal at Fallsburg Elementary and Middle School. “His mom came to enroll him and he absolutely lit up the entire room with his smile.”
Xzaiver maintained a positive attitude throughout his battle with cancer. He had not only the Fallsburg school community but most of eastern Kentucky rooting for him. His parents, Mike and Freedom Williamson, were told the cancer their son was diagnosed with was 1 in 300 million.
He was diagnosed in July 2011 with Ewings sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that is a genetic disposition from birth. There’s no warning, no way to know you have it until you have it.
The Fallsburg community rallied around the young man, and social media, especially Facebook, kept everyone informed on his status. He was feeling good on Christmas Day, but took a turn for the worse that night and never recovered.
Xzaiver was a member of Fallsburg’s eighth-grade class. The school has students from ages 4 through 14. He had been there since third grade. His sister is a fourth-grader at Fallsburg Elementary.
A water main break closed Lawrence County schools on Friday and Lester said “it was a blessing” given the situation. The schoolchildren grew close to Xzaiver throughout his illness, Lester said.
“I have to say, I’m thankful to be out today,” he said Friday. “Monday will be a whole lot better day than today would have been.”
Xzaiver died Thursday morning, but Lester said there was no announcement at school. School officials wanted parents to talk to their children about it.
“A couple of parents picked up their kids early,” he said. “They didn’t want their kids to hear it in the gym. With social media the way it is, it was all over the place.”
Lester said he called the house on Dec. 14 to speak with Xzaiver’s mother about her daughter and Xzaiver answered the phone.
“I talked to him for a few minutes. He was wrapping Christmas presents. He thanked us for stuff me and Stephanie (Jamie’s wife) had sent him. I’m thankful I got to talk to him.”
Lester said district counselors were in place Friday even though school was canceled. He said counselors will be there again Monday.
“We’ll talk to all of them first thing. After that it’s really business as usual,” he said. “Normalcy is imperative in this kind of situation. We won’t try to magnify anything that happened.”
Xzaiver’s parents have been appreciative of the support they’ve received from Fallsburg and beyond, Lester said.
“It’s pretty much all of eastern Kentucky. There’s hardly anyone that doesn’t know about him.”
There were several fundraisers, and shirts and bracelets sold to help the family defray enormous medical bills.
“The whole time they relied on prayer and relied on God,” Lester said of Xzaiver and his parents.
There are lessons to be learned from Xzaiver, Lester said.
“His willingness to allow others to share with him what is a very personal and private diagnosis will leave a positive and lasting legacy at Fallsburg Elementary. Xzaiver taught us to not be afraid of whatever tomorrow brings us. With the ever present support of his school family and friends, he leaves us better now than before. We will miss him.”
Visitation for Xzaiver continues at Fallsburg Tabernacle Church. The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at the church.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.