When Sandy Thornton learned her 17-year-old daughter had cancer a few months ago, she had no idea how she would put one foot in front of the other -- much less how she would juggle treatments, doctor appointments and pay her bills.
The decision to be there every step of the way for Sarah Jernigan was a no-brainer.
But how could she make ends meet in the process?
Jernigan, a Southern Wayne High School student, was diagnosed with hypodploid acute lymphoblastic leukemia in early March.
Despite several life-threatening obstacles during treatments, one of the recommendations was a bone marrow transplant. Things started looking up when Thornton's youngest child, 13-year-old Savannah, was found to be a "perfect match."
Testing and preparations began for the siblings to have the surgery July 16.
But then came a monkey wrench nearly two weeks ago -- Sarah's leukemia was back.
She is back in the hospital at UNC in Chapel Hill for 28 consecutive days of chemotherapy. Her mother is, again, by her side.
Relatives have banded together to care for Savannah, a student at Mount Olive Middle School, with the transplant put on hold.
Thornton, who works at a Circle K in Goldsboro, has rearranged her schedule to work mostly on weekends when she travels back from Chapel Hill. With the latest round of treatments, she is not leaving the hospital as long as Sarah is there.
Her intent is to save up the family medical leave for when the bone marrow surgery happens, as that could require up four to six weeks of hospitalization for her daughter, plus an estimated 100-day stay at Ronald McDonald House there. But of course, while the Family and Medical Leave Act allows for up to 12 weeks off, it is considered unpaid leave.
Thornton's sister, Loretta Hopper, has tried to lend as much support as possible, despite living in Kentucky. In addition to traveling back and forth, she set up a GoFundMe page to offset some of the mounting expenses. It can be found at Sarah's Fight Against Leukemia.
"My original goal was to get enough because she's a single mom, to pay her rent and car payment for a year so she doesn't have to worry," she told the News-Argus.
She set a modest goal of $5,000. In the three months since, it had drawn a response of nearly $2,000.
But then a story about the family ran in this past Sunday's News-Argus.
The tide began to turn.
"Immediately as soon as the story hit, I think somebody donated $100 and then an hour later $200 and then later that night, some lady donated $3,000," Thornton said, still incredulous when she spoke with the News-Argus on Tuesday.
Savannah receives alerts on her phone each time a donation is made. The family was used to each $10 and $20 gift, Thornton said, and grateful for each and every one.
But then came the alert about the $3,000 donation made by Esther Ivey, and Thornton said when she got the call, she thought Savannah was joking.
"I was totally shocked -- who has that kind of money to donate in one sitting? I would just like to thank her in person."
As of Wednesday, the donations were up to $6,327.
Thornton's appreciation was coupled with awkwardness.
She was certainly not doing any of this for money, she said. She is just a woman trying to take care of her sick child and pay her bills as best she can.
"I sit here and I worry and I worry-- how am I going to go four or five months?" she said by phone. "It was just a relief. I added it up -- that's five months' rent. I was able to take a deep breath.
"I just can't believe someone was so generous like that."
A huge load has been lifted from her shoulders, she said.
As she holds vigil in her daughter's hospital room, she admitted she has thought a lot about whether or not she will still have a job, or an income, when this whole journey ends.
"It means a lot," she said of the outpouring of support she has received. "I definitely feel the love and I'm not just talking about the money -- the encouragement and the prayers, sometimes that's just what you need."
Sarah had also been blessed by the news, initially acknowledging the large donation on the GoFundMe page.
"Esther Ivey, I personally wanna thank you so much for your donation that's really gonna help us," she wrote. "Idk (I don't know) who you are but I love you. Thank you so much!!"
In response to the post, Ivey wrote, "Prayers and God bless your family."
Attempts to reach Ivey were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Sarah had a message for her home community.
"Thanks, everybody, who donated money," she said. "Please pray for me and my mom. It means a lot."