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Family walks from Disneyland to Disney World in honor of late daughter
Cinderella gives Julia Cobb a kiss on the cheek at Disney World in 2013. - photo by Sarah Gambles
It had been a challenging day for the Cobbs one of many over the past three years.

The grieving family from Houston was walking across the country in honor of their 8-year-old daughter, Julia, who died of cancer in 2013, and now they had just said goodbye to Prancer, their 15-year-old golden retriever, who had to be put down due to old age.

But in a small Mississippi gas station, where they had stopped to rest on March 25, Jennifer Cobb saw a symbol of hope on the ground: a red paper heart.

Her daughter Julia, fondly nicknamed "Ju," had loved to draw and cut out paper hearts.

As Cobb bent down to pick up the heart, the alarm on her phone went off: 4:13 p.m. Philippians 4:13 was Julia's favorite scripture, and the alarm goes off every day to remind Jennifer Cobb of its encouraging message: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

Julia had needed that strength. On Dec. 22, 2011, she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. She underwent extensive chemotherapy but died in October 2013.

Her mother said the paper heart she saw in the gas station was a gift from her daughter.

"It's just like her, sending us little signs like, 'Don't forget me. I'm still here!'" Jennifer Cobb said.

Before Julia died, the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave Julia, her parents and her three siblings Jonathan, 13; Jenna, 11; and Jaxi, 4 a free trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando. Julia spent her last evening eating dinner with Mickey and Goofy, closing the warm night with one last ride on Soarin', a flight simulator attraction. The next morning, Julia woke up feeling sick, and she died later that day.

Julia loved adventure and all things Disney, and the Cobb family had planned to walk from Disneyland in Anaheim, California, to Disney World in Florida as a family when Julia was feeling better. To honor Julia, the family is now in the middle of that journey, which they dubbed Walk Across America.

Before the 4,000-mile trek began on Aug. 6, 2014, Jonathan Cobb Sr., Julia's father, worked as a pastor for a Baptist church in Houston, and her mom blogged about the family's experiences with cancer. After Julia's death, the family packed up and headed on an adventure.

Also in honor of Julia, her family established the JuCan Foundation, which helps fund sarcoma research.

After Julia was diagnosed with cancer, her family and friends would motivate her by saying, "JuCan-UCan-GodCan." That phrase is now the tagline for the foundation.

"Were just making the best of what Gods given us, and its humbling to think its really helping anybody," Jennifer Cobb said.

The Walk Across America has taken the Cobbs through California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama, their current stop on the trek. Georgia is next, and then they will move on to Florida.

In each state, they stop at hospitals and schools to offer hope to those dealing with cancer or other illnesses.

"Me and my brother have loads of energy, so it's been really great," said Jenna Cobb, Julia's older sister. "Weve been getting to visit with kids with cancer, and its been a lot of fun."

Breathing heavily while walking, Jonathan Cobb Jr., Julia's brother, said that the journey has been therapeutic and increased his faith.

"God gives us signs all the time," he said. "Whenever I start to think, even a little bit, that God is not helping us or is not listening or hearing our cries, then I meet somebody or get a special sign."

Each day, the family walks 20-25 miles, rotating shifts so that at least one person is walking while the others ride in a car. They dedicate each day's walk to someone who is battling cancer or needs extra help and prayers. Jennifer Cobb says the family's faith fuels them.

"At the end of the day, I dont give up on faith because without it, where are we?" the mother said. "You go and have your big crying scream in a childlike fit and come back around and say, 'I'm going to believe.' If that doesn't happen, and I don't believe, then that means Im never going to see my daughter again. That, for me, is motivation right there."

This isn't the family's first experience with cancer. Both of Julia's grandmothers died of cancer, and Julia's father, Jonathan Cobb Sr., was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2006, which is now in remission.

Jennifer Cobb said the hardships have strengthened her family and provided unique opportunities.

"We are humble about what God is doing," she said. "Hes seen us through day to day, and not a moment too soon, he comes through with a hotel room from somebody or through a meal, like when someone took care of our meal at Cracker Barrel."

The Cobbs' walk is funded by sponsors, but they appreciate the generosity of strangers who provide food, shelter and other services.

The Cobbs met one such stranger while passing through the small town of Orderville in southern Utah, where aspiring country musician Jared Harlan offered to take them on a zip line ride free of charge.

"I couldnt really give them money or much of anything, but I could take them on the zip line and let their kids have a good time and break up their walk," Harlan said. "If anything, we could have a good time with good people trying to do good things."

Harlan said the Cobb family's experience inspired him to write a song. He plans to meet the family at Disney World to play it for them.

"I have been pretty blessed and lucky in my life not go through any types of tragedy like that," Harlan said. "It inspires me to see people go through a tragedy like that and still be happy and smiling. Im sure theres still a bit of a hole in their heart, but it was filled by the Savior."

The Cobbs aren't sure where they will live or what they will be doing after their walk ends, but they know whatever happens, it will bring tests and trials that will strengthen them.

"We are all on this amazing journey right now, and I doubt we would have done that if Julia had been cured," Jennifer Cobb said. "We like to think we would, but I think great things are born out of tragedy."

The Cobb family is looking forward to arriving in Disney World in June. However, they still plan to spread the word about their foundation and their faith in Jesus Christ while they're there.
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