In Gaelic, his name means “champion.”
Nolan Scully, a 4-year-old Leonardtown boy who captured the hearts of many in St. Mary’s and beyond as he battled cancer for a year and a half, died Saturday night.
Nolan’s story, shared through social media, has attracted tens of thousands of followers across the country. The community at home and from as far as Ireland and Australia have sent in waves of outpouring support and prayers since the family made the announcement on Facebook on Sunday morning.
Nolan was born to Ruth and Jonathan Scully on Sept. 7, 2012. At the age of 3, he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer. Nationwide, he was one of more than 10,000 children diagnosed with cancer every year.
About a month after Nolan’s diagnosis, a Facebook page called NolanStrong was created to document his fight. Attracting more than 100,000 likes on Facebook, the page chronicled the Scully family’s heartbreaking journey filled with tears and joys through pictures, videos and text updates.
One post, for example, posted on Nov. 27, showed a picture of Nolan lying on a bathmat in the bathroom.
“What you don’t see is my 4-year-old son scared to death to be in a room without me, so he lays in the bathroom looking at my shower door as I’m about to get in,” Ruth Scully wrote. “He will not move a muscle until I’m done.”
Besides heartbreaking moments and worrisome updates about Nolan’s health conditions, the page also included joyful happenings such as visits from firefighters, police officers, people portraying superheroes, players from the Washington Capitals and so on. Once, the family shared the exciting news of Nolan receiving a big package filled with gifts from the East Farmingdale Fire Department in New York.
Nolan loved the fire department because his father is a firefighter.
Jonathan Scully was the past fire chief at Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department and stepped down after Nolan’s diagnosis, according to Mark Bell, current chief of the fire department.
Nolan loved firefighters, the police or any kind of first responder, and he dreamt of becoming a police officer when he got older, according to a Huffington Post article. He was also named an honorary police officer by the Philadelphia Police Commissioner.
“Every battle he’s had, he just bounced back, unbelievably,” Bell said, referring to the rounds of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments Nolan had. “You knocked him down, he just came back and ran.”
Through the NolanStrong page, the Scullys noted how the community’s long-standing support has made a difference in their lives.
“Again I watched this community come together for my son, it’s nothing short of amazing,” Ruth Scully wrote in a post on Nov. 6. “There were people supporting him that I’ve known my whole life, a few weeks or never even met.
“We are forever grateful for all of you, near and far,” she continued to write in the post, thanking the community for the positive comments, cards in the mail, fundraising events and other kind gestures. “Nolan’s support system has helped us and carried us thru this hell for the last year.”
Sending ripples throughout the social media world and the real world, Nolan’s story reaches far.
In the virtual community, some shared their own struggles with a child in the family fighting cancer or other terminal illnesses. Others sent love and prayers.
Jeremy Roark was one of thousands of commenters who thanked the Scully family for sharing the gift of Nolan with the community.
“At a time when you were and are going through hell, your champion, became our champion,” Roark wrote under his post of Nolan’s body being escorted back home from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital by multiple fire departments and various law enforcement agencies Monday afternoon.
“And although the outcome for us who are left is saddening and heartwrenching, you and your son have touched lives worldwide,” he continued in the comment. Roark grew up in Leonardtown and lives in Northern Virginia. He said he heard of Nolan’s story through Facebook and has been rooting and praying for the Scullys since October.
Outside Facebook in the real world, the community hosted a NolanStrong 5K in December of 2015 with hundreds of people registered. The community fundraiser “Buzz Off Cancer for Nolan” was held about a year ago at Gatton’s Barber Shop in Hollywood, and a local soccer tournament last fall was dedicated in his honor.
Most recently on Friday, many people attended a prayer vigil held for Nolan in the Leonardtown square.
The Leonardtown Business Association held January’s First Friday in Nolan’s honor and had collection boxes placed in various stores through January, according to Town Administrator Laschelle McKay. The total amount of donation collected was about $2,300, she said.
Leonardtown Mayor Dan Burris said Friday’s vigil was filled with “somber” moments.
“He’s been fighting this for almost half of his life,” Burris said. “It was a hard struggle for him and the family. Our hearts go out to them.”
Through it all, the Scullys took time to raise awareness on childhood cancer and expressed wishes to see more funding put into research to come up with cures so no other family has to experience what they went through.
Fundraisers in Nolan’s name continue, including on Feb. 12, when a charity CrossFit Competition in memory of Nolan is scheduled to be held at 8 a.m at Crossfit Lakas in Hollywood. Also, Mother Catherine Academy will be hosting its second annual Local Heroes project on March 19 at the school in Helen. For more about that event, which will be in the boy’s honor, email email@example.com.
NolanStrong is raising funds for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity that funds efforts to find cures for children with cancer. The Scully family also started an online fundraising project in November of 2015 to help the family with travel expenses and treatment costs as Nolan was treated at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The project “Help Nolan Fight the Battle” raised more than $41,000 from nearly 500 individual donors, far surpassing its $25,000 goal. As every hour goes by, more donations come in.
Nolan’s life celebration is scheduled to be held tomorrow, Thursday, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department. The funeral service will be held on Friday at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church in Leonardtown. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/nolanscully.
Memorial contributions can go to The Hope for Henry Foundation at Hope for Henry, 2440 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20007. The foundation provides gifts to children hospitalized with life-threatening diseases.