South Dakota Teen Brings Terminally Ill Sister to Winter Formal: 'You Taught Me How to Be Brave'

Teen Brings Terminally Ill Little Sister to Winter Formal
Rebekah and AJ Spader
Source: KSFY

02/25/2016 AT 02:40 PM EST

"I was nervous," 15-year-old AJ Spader told KDLT of the moment before he asked his 10-year-old sister, Rebekah, to his high school's winter formal.

"I would be broken if you weren't my sister because you taught me how to be brave and I'd be blessed if you went to formal with me," AJ wrote on a poster he presented to Rebekah.

The young girl from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has taught every member of her family to be brave as she has spent much of her life dealing with a terminal illness.

Rebekah was born with hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathy (HSAN), a hereditary disorder that affects the nervous system. The disorder isn't curable, but it can be managed. Six years after her initial diagnosis, Rebakah's parents learned their daughter had another debilitating condition: myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of bone marrow failure.

Rebekah underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant that sadly wasn’t a success. "This past March is when we realized that everything that we had done was not working," Rebekah's mom, Stephanie, told KDLT in July. With no new treatment options, the family decided to stop treatment and try to help Rebekah enjoy the time she has left. Rebekah made a bucket list that included a concert in July that raised $20,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

This month, AJ decided to use his first high school dance to give his little sister an experience she would otherwise miss out on.

"I wanted to ask my sister because she's most likely not going to be able to experience high school. So I just thought why not ask her to formal," AJ told KSFY.



AJ made sure his little sister got the full experience, from hair and make-up to dinner with friends to the mandatory pre-dance photo session.

"It's fun to watch her live part of life where the disease doesn't creep in, where she is just excited to be going and doing something that every child and every teenager gets to do," Rebekah's father, Tony, said.

AJ said he couldn't have asked for a better date. "Her laugh is pretty great. It's really fun to just be around her and just make memories," he told KSFY. "I want to spend as much time with her as possible while she's still doing good."
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