Fact Box: Online fund raising has been set up at www.youcaring.com/EmilyCrews
To follow her story, go to Emily’s blog at www.facebook.com/agirlwithcancer.
Cutting horse rider
National Cutting Horse Association
When Emily Crews is balanced astride a powerful cutting horse, in perfect rhythm with his twisting and turning, abrupt, crouching stops and sudden staccato side steps, she doesn’t have time to think about brain cancer.
The 17-year-old cowgirl, like the horse she is riding, is totally focused on the task at hand: cutting a single calf out of a small herd and preventing that calf from sneaking back into that herd.
With a helping hand from the National Cutting Horse Association and Western Wishes, along with some cutting horse professionals, Emily’s dream of competing on a cutting horse and inspiring others with her courage, determination and horsemanship came true Dec. 13 in the open finals of the NCHA World Championship Futurity at Will Rogers Coliseum.
“When I saw the opportunity to ride a cutting horse, I jumped on it,” Crews said. “It gets your mind off everything else and just makes you feel so free and relaxed.”
An avid equestrian who has competed in barrel racing and pole bending competition throughout high school and won three rodeo queen competitions, Crews was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer at age 15. She has three oligodendroglioma tumors, which doctors for two years have said are inoperable.
But, the teenager’s dream of riding a cutting horse has led not only to her inspiring performance in Fort Worth, but also to surgery scheduled soon at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
“Last fall, we were looking for some kids who might enjoy tickets to come see the competition,” said Jessica Harms, marketing and communications manager for the NCHA. “I contacted Western Wishes [a nonprofit organization that spotlights kids who love the western way of life and are faced with adversity], and they said they had a girl who actually wanted to ride a cutting horse. It sounded far-fetched at the time, but then Clint [Allen, a cutting horse trainer] heard about it and said he would love to help teach her.”
There was more. David and Stacie McDavid who volunteered one of their show horses and the bunkhouse at their Weatherford ranch so that Emily and her mom, Malinda Crews, who live in Texarkana, could spend three weekends at the ranch learning all about cutting horses.
In the weeks just before the futurity, the brain seizures increased to five or six a day. Emily was very ill – exhausted from the attacks and all the medication it took to hold them in check – but she was determined to ride.
“She was adamant. She had worked hard. She said, ‘God brought me this far. I can’t stop now. I just have to trust Him to take me through it,’” Emily’s mother, Malinda Crews, recalled.
“She’s never been a ‘lime-light’ girl, but she said it was easy to ignore the crowd while she was working the calf and feeling the power of that horse under her. You could see by the look on her face how focused she was,” Malinda Crews said. “When she finished, she said the standing ovation (from a sell-out crowd of 6,000) sounded like thunder, and she just felt so encouraged by every person there.”
In addition to her big wish coming true, Emily Crews received the NCHA championship buckle from the winner of the event and her own specially designed buckle, chaps, boots, jeans and engraved spurs. One of Emily’s horse paintings, auctioned to help pay her medical bills sold for $35,000 and a man who said he had heard a puppy was on her Christmas list presented her with a border collie.
“A lot of miracles happened that night.,” Harms said. She touched so many people. A lot of prayers were answered.”
Still, Emily was so ill, hospice care was called in the week after she returned home – just in time for one more miracle.
Stacie McDavid and Kit Moncrief stepped in and found a surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston who believes he can remove most of the two larger tumors and buy Emily some more quality time, Harms said.
The doctor said Emily could come out of the surgery partially paralyzed, and in any case, will never ride again, but those who know the cowgirl best don’t believe she will let that stop her, Malinda Crews said.
“She can do anything from the back of a horse, and she’s already beaten everyone’s expectations concerning this cancer,” her mom said. “All the doctors we saw when she was first diagnosed said it was inoperable, but now we’ve found one says he feels confident that surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy could help…The risk of not doing the surgery is greater than the risk of doing it.
“And, Emily really wants to ride again.”