CAMDENTON — The rumor mill runs fast and deep in middle school. It takes less than a few seconds to send a text or post something on a Facebook page for hundreds to know false gossip.
The juicier the story, the faster it spreads. Like wildfire in a dry forest.
So when 14-year-old Jessica Greim got a text about Jaxon Downen's cancer diagnosis, she didn't believe it.
Cancer, divorce, bad haircut — she heard it all before.
When the same text buzzed through on her cell phone again, she ignored that one as well. Even later, while talking with a friend, Jaxon's name came up, but, again, Jessica didn't think too much of it.
"It's middle school," she said. "Rumors go around all the time."
It was when she started receiving texts from Jaxon's best friends, also in eighth grade with Jessica and Jaxon at Camdenton Middle School, that Jessica knew this story was true.
Facebook posts from Jaxon and his mom affirmed it. Jaxon Downen had leukemia.
In between chatting with friends on Facebook, Jessica had the spur-of-the-moment idea to start a support group for him.
If each of her 250 Facebook friends joined the group, maybe a few more, it would be a nice way to show encouragement for their classmate, Jessica said. She wasn't expecting too many more to join.
It was the spark needed for Jessica to start her own wildfire, this one in support of Jaxon.
Twelve hours after Jessica created the page, the "Support and Love for Jaxon Downen" group had hundreds of participants and was rapidly growing. As word spread about Jaxon's cancer diagnosis, so did the number of members in the group.
The message board was soon flooded with words of encouragement, hope, prayers and support. It's even being used to organize fundraisers, advertise the bone marrow registry and post pictures of Jaxon's stay in the hospital.
More and more kept joining. From friends, family and strangers to residents from the Camdenton area, nurses at St. Louis Children's Hospital where he is being treated to people who live several states away, they all clicked to join the "Support and Love for Jaxon Downen" group.
Jaxon recently had his first of several surgeries expected over the course of the next couple years of treatment. Jessica contacted Jaxon's mom and asked her to post his progress as well as other updates.
Jaxon's mom wrote: Jaxon is in his room. Chemo started today. He will be here for sure 29 days. We have learned his type. It is pre-B-cell ALL. Three years total therapy time. He is watching a DVD and getting ready to eat crab Rangoon. Children Hospital is Amazing! So are all of you!"
ALL stands for acute lymphocyctic leukemia, or acute lymphoblastic. It starts in a person's bone marrow. In children, it accounts for 3 out of 4 cases of leukemia diagnosis.
Jaxon even took a few moments to post his own response, thanking people for the kind words.
As the number of people in the group swells, so does Jessica's amazement.
"People are really coming together," Jessica said, who set her sights on 2,500 friends in the group. As of Jan. 24, more than 3,200 people had joined the group.
Jessica's mother, Lisa Greim, said she wasn't surprised when Jessica started a Facebook page for Jaxon.
"She's always out there trying to do something for other people," Lisa said. "She has such a big heart."
At school, classmates had to take turns and line up to sign a large poster. Several classmates are also wearing woven bracelets in support of Jaxon.
"It's things we can do to show him we're thinking about him," Jessica said. "We're sad that this happened to him but we're all coming together to help and show our support."