It’s funny how certain people are drawn to one another. For 18-year-old Jordan Belous of New York and 9-year-old Tessa Prothero of Royal Oak, it was cancer of all things along and a hit pop song and dance that laid the foundation for an unbreakable bond.
In 2015, Belous was a 16-year-old living in New York, working as a counselor at a camp for children with cancer. She was tired of watching kids die.
So she decided to do something. Inspired by the hit song “Watch Me” (also known as “Whip” or the “Nae Nae”) by the artist Silento, Belous decided to make a video of herself doing the “Nae Nae.” She posted her 14-second video on social media with a challenge: She wanted others to do the same, but with the hashtag #WhipPediatricCancer.
The video went viral. Today, there are more than 7,000 #WhipPediatricCancer videos and Belous has raised more than $100,000 for pediatric cancer research through her nonprofit.
For Tessa, Belous’s campaign was incredibly personal. She was fighting neuroblastoma, an aggressive type of cancer that develops from immature nerve cells and most commonly affects kids under 5. She met Belous in 2015 while she was in New York with her family for treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital.
“Tessa and I clicked at the first hello,” writes Belous in an email. “Since that day we have not left each other’s side.”
Belous would take Tessa out in New York to do fun things in the city. When they weren’t together, they’d FaceTime or Belous would visit Michigan.
“Tessa is and will always be my favorite person,” writes Belous. “She had this sass and spunk that I adore. She was good at everything she did whether it was dancing, or singing, or swimming or drawing and painting, she was a good student and a great friend and role model to everyone she met. She loved her life and she showed everyone how to live their own life to the fullest.”
“She really is the sister I never had but always wanted,” says Belous.
Tragically, Tessa died on Saturday, surrounded by her parents, siblings and loved ones. Even until the end, Tessa would say Jordan’s name. Tessa’s mom Karin calls Belous, or JJ as she’s known, Tessa’s “sister from another mister.”
But even death can’t separate us from the ones we love. For Belous, her fight to end pediatric cancer won’t end. And neither will her connection to Michigan or Tessa’s family.
After graduating from high school on Thursday, the 18-year-old will be in Michigan for Tessa’s funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday at A. J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Home in Troy. Her family has asked that memorial donations be made to Belous’s nonprofit, Whip Pediatric Cancer.
And in the fall, she’ll attend Michigan State University where she wants to study to become an elementary school teacher.
“Tessa was so excited when I told her that,” Belous said. “She wanted to be a Spartan, too, when she grew up.”
As tragic as it is that that day will never come, for many, Tessa will live on. And Belous says she won’t stop saying Tessa’s name or fighting to end pediatric cancer.
“Tessa touched the hearts of so many in the greatest way possible, and her death will not be in vein,” Belous said. “Social Media has allowed thousands to love her, and pray for her, and I will continue to use my platform to raise awareness and funds for this disease.”