Peotone: Spa Day for Peotone Girl a Respite Amid Father’s Cancer Battle

The Barclay Family of Peotone needs your help. Already caring for Dixie, 4, who suffers from myelomeningocele spina bifida, the Dad, Tony, recently was diagnosed with terminal cancer.(Photo courtesy of the Barclay family)
The Barclay Family of Peotone needs your help. Already caring for Dixie, 4, who suffers from myelomeningocele spina bifida, the Dad, Tony, recently was diagnosed with terminal cancer. (Photo courtesy of the Barclay family)

Dixie getting the works at Sloan Stevens Salon in Frankfort, courtesy of the Manhattan Fire Buddies.
(Photos courtesy of the Barclay Family)

By Stephanie Irvine

The Barclay Family of Peotone has had all it can handle, with a 4-year-old daughter suffering from a rare congenital condition, and the father and sole family support recently diagnosed with a terminal illness.

They had a brief respite, thanks to the Manhattan Chapter of Project Fire Buddies, who provided the girl, Dixie Mae Barclay, with the gift of a spa day.

Dixie lives with myelomeningocele spina bifida, the most severe form of a rare congenital condition that affects the spinal cord. Additionally, she suffers from hydrocephalus as a result of her condition. She is currently using a wheelchair as she is unable to walk or stand without assistance.

Despite her condition, Dixie is a happy child with a big personality who loves everything girly.

“She’s very resilient,” Dixie’s mom, Jess Barclay, explained.

To date, Dixie has undergone 13 surgeries, with eight of them for her hydrocephalus shunt, and the other surgeries for her back and to help improve her daily quality of life.

“She’s in therapy four days a week to hopefully get her the strength and stamina to one day be able to walk for at least short periods. Spina bifida is different in every case, so we don’t know if that will ever be a possibility, but we are hopeful.”

And thankful for Project Fire Buddies, a nonprofit organization that began in 2016 and is made up of nearly 100 fire department chapters throughout the state. Their goal is to bring joy to children struggling with critical illnesses.

The Manhattan Fire Protection District chapter began in October 2022 and has eight fire buddies, two of which, including Dixie, reside in the Peotone area.

“We were welcomed into the program last spring, and the amount of things that they have done for Dixie has been incredible. Every time they come with something, it is always all out,” said Jess Barclay.

Monthly home visits, and visits for special events like birthdays and holidays, are often accompanied by a parade of emergency services vehicles flashing their lights and blaring their sirens, much to the delight and joy of the children.

Dixie’s Spa Day took place on March 29 at the Sloan Stevens Salon in Frankfort, where she and her mom were greeted by the salon and spa staff, Fire Buddies team with presents and a balloon arch, as well as Monica Ochoa, the 2022 Miss America winner and current Ms. Chicago beauty queen, who brought gifts of her own for Dixie.

The spa days are organized by Project Fire Buddies to give children a reprieve from dealing with their medical treatments.

“Our estheticians at Skyn Medspa did facials, and they had their hair washed and styled by stylists at Sloan Stevens,” said Ciara Goworowski of Skyn Medical Spa.

Goworowski explained that after pampering and primping, Dixie and her mom were brought to the American Girl Doll store in Chicago where Dixie was able to get her first American Girl Doll. Project Fire Buddies donated the experience, gifts, and transportation in a luxury SUV and driver.

Goworowski’s husband and a stylist from Sloan Stevens are heavily involved in Project Fire Buddies. When Goworowski learned from Jackie O’Hara of the Manhattan Chapter that Project Fire Buddies wanted to do a spa day for Dixie, Goworowski approached the salon and spa owners, who were both on board with the idea.

Make-up was part of the spa treatment for Dixie.

“We loved having them. And we would love to have any other fire buddies who want to feel pampered. The owners of Sloan Stevens and Skyn Medspa feel the exact same way. Anything we can do to help, we want to do it,” said Goworowski.

Dixie even got the chance to play with makeup and give one of the firefighters in attendance a makeover.

“Just seeing Dixie and her mom so happy really made the day so special,” said O’Hara.

O’Hara has a unique role with the Fire Buddies chapter as she is part of the administrative staff for the department. She explained that planning the spa days for the fire buddies has become one of her favorite things to do.

“It’s hard to describe in words how special the bond is between all of us,” said O’Hara.

Dixie’s dedicated Fire Buddy, firefighter John Slattery, explained that he thought Project Fire Buddies presented a great opportunity to get involved to be a part of something bigger.

“Bringing joy to these families has been a humbling and rewarding experience to say the least,” said Slattery.

The attention that Project Fire Buddies gives hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“They are an incredible organization for what they do for the kids, and us, our family. I have an 11 year old son, and they always bring him a little something, too. Which I think is so great so he doesn’t feel left out,” said Barclay.

The organization’s support is especially welcome after Dixie’s father, Tony, was diagnosed in December with multiple myeloma cancer, an incurable, terminal bone marrow cancer for which he is currently undergoing treatment.

“It’s been a tough year,” said Jess Barclay. “My husband is our sole income. I stay home to take care of Dixie.”

She explained that although Tony’s job as a carpenter is secure through FMLA, he doesn’t get paid when he has to take time off for doctor’s visits or when he is undergoing chemo.

In June, Tony Barclay will be admitted to the hospital for three weeks for a stem cell transplant with the hope of regrowing his bone marrow without the cancer cells. While Tony is in the hospital undergoing treatment, he won’t be paid, but the medical bills will continue to accrue.

“It’s been difficult,” Jess Barclay admitted reluctantly. She explained that just like most insurance policies, their insurance will pay a portion of the treatments for Dixie and Tony, but only after they hit their out-of-pocket max. Dixie has already hit her out-of-pocket max, and Tony is sure to follow.

“We’re trying to plan ahead,” Barclay said. But it was clear that planning ahead would be difficult as the medical bills from Dixie’s care are significant on their own. “We already have a ton of outstanding medical debt. It’s just more at this point.”

Tony’s sister launched a Go Fund Me to help offset costs.

Throughout the conversation, one thing was certain: the gratitude from the Barclay family was clear with nearly every comment.

“We are grateful to have the support of Project Fire Buddies, and our family and friends, because without all of these entities we really would not be able to get through everything that we have been through. We are so grateful to have good people in our corner rooting us on to be there for Dixie and my husband.”

If you’d like to donate to the GoFundMe that was set up to help with mounting medical bills from Dixie and Tony’s treatments, please visit:

www.gofundme.com/f/tonys-fight-against-multiple-myleoma-cancer.

Stephanie Irvine is a freelance reporter.

Dixie made sure her Manhattan Fire Buddy, John Slattery, got some makeup love, too.

A relaxing moment for Dixie, 4, who is suffering from the most severe form of a rare congenital condition that affects the spinal cord.

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