I want to share with you guys the BEST story. It will make you cry, laugh and cry again. So grab a tissue!
I have gotten to know Amber through my sister-in-law, Jessie. They have been best friends forever and I first met Amber when my brother and Jessie got married. She has to be one of the strongest people I know to have gone through this. I first met her daughter, Elly at the wedding. She was an adorable little toddler running around without a care in the world but her story was far more complex. I've asked Amber to share a bit about Elly and her battle here:
Just after her first birthday, Elly was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). She lost her hair during treatment, which, to most people was hardly noticeable at her age; she looked natural bald. It tore my heart up though. I knew the difference. It's just hair, but it was just one of those things- It had FINALLY grown long enough for me to make her look like an adorable little Pebbles Flintstone. Then it was gone. The last lock literally fell into my hands as I was running my fingers through her hair, making her ailment look, and feel, so much more real to me.
|The day Elly was diagnosed, we made a trip to the ER thinking she had an ear infection at worst.|
I shouldn't complain. She was one when she started treatment, so she couldn't talk (although, I'm guessing the screams she let out would NOT have translated kindly.) There were older kids that went to the same office she did. We could hear them sometimes. This may be awful of me, but I always felt so fortunate that I didn't have to try to explain anything to her. She just HAD to do what we put her through. No arguments, no opinions or fights... just treatment.
|Amber and Elly after she started chemo.|
She battled through chemo like a champ. Had a few blood and platelet transfusions, and some sort of infection at her port site once, but never any major complications. They were unable to find any more leukemia cells in her blood within a few weeks of treatment, and never again since.
|Waiting at the office to have her port accessed for therapy. She loved to be the doctor.|
She still had to be treated for years... but it seemed so simple compared to other kids. That was another obvious blessing- so many people struggle through their battle. Some don't make it. We attended a funeral for a little boy, Travis, who Elly friended in her couple years of chemo at St. Johns. She was 3, he was 6, when he passed.There is a sense of guilt there. I know it's not my fault. I certainly didn't make that decision. I didn't want Travis to die. He was Elly's hero. Literally. He swore to "protect" her from all the "evil" staff that poked and prodded at her. She was HIS "ladybug". I'll just never understand why I got to keep my child, and his mom didn't.
|Elly and her buddy, Travis.|
The older she gets, the more she learns about her past. She doesn't remember much of her cancer days, but she asks a lot of questions and tries to piece together what she DOES have memory of. It's something I'd like to completely forget, but I can't. Unfortunately, that was a huge part of her life (and ours)... and it will always be medical history that will affect her. Forever. We just try to teach her how we can make what was bad for us, better for someone else.
|Elly and her Daddy at her final spinal tap.|
Elly wasn't old enough to care that her hair was gone, but lots of other people aren't that "lucky". I brought up how I'd like to donate her hair when it was long enough to. In my mind, that meant her hair would be about down to her feet- that way it would still be long and I could admire it in all its glory haha. I thought she might agree to grow it so long- She has dreams of working at Disney World as Rapunzel when she grows up. But, she decided NOW was the time. My (almost) 7 year old is more selfless than I am. "Why wait, when I can help another kid NOW?" ::sigh:: She's something. As bad as I selfishly wanted to keep her long hair, how could I say "no"? And, of course, everything big sister does, Ry MUST also do.
|Elly right before cutting her hair for donation.|
So we took both girls to cut, and donate, their long, gorgeous hair. They're both beyond excited at the opportunity to share their locks, and brighten someone else's hardship. And, of course, I love their new short do's =] I know I may be biased, but my girls are the most beautiful people I know. Inside and out. Long hair, or short. ;) I couldn't be more proud.
I am sending the cut ponytails to Wigs for Kids ( wigsforkids.org ), along with several checks that people have written as a sponsorship. WFK provides FREE hair pieces to kids who have lost their hair due to any variety of causes (cancer, alopecia...). It costs over $1,000 to make just ONE wig- so, they depend on monetary donations also. I encourage everyone to take the time to at least educate yourself about the company, and pass the information along. If it is in your heart to donate, and you don't have long enough hair to do so, maybe you can spare even $5. Every small bit makes a difference.
If that isn't enough to make water flow from your eyes and your heart burst with love, you aren't human. What Amber DOESN'T tell you in all this is that on top of dealing with Elly's cancer diagnosis, her husband was deployed in Afghanistan for a year. He used his 2 weeks of R&R to rush home when they got the diagnosis but had to go back and serve another 10 months. Can you even imagine?!
Amber and her entire family are such an inspiration. She doesn't know this but I think about her often when I have a bad day/week/month. My babies are healthy and I have my husband at home, I will always be very thankful and aware of those facts thanks to Elly's story.
If you are as inspired by Amber and Elly's story as I have been, please consider making a donation to wigsforkids.org. It is a wonderful cause. I would also encourage you to donate your hair! This is a BIG deal but if two sweet little girls can do it, why can't we? I'm seriously looking into this myself and will do a future post on organizations, length requirements etc.
If you or someone you know has donated hair, please share with us! We'd love to hear about your experience, why you did it and which organization you choose.
If you want to hear more about Elly's story, you can read her blog here: http://www.carepages.com/carepages/AnneliseJoy. Amber says it hasn't been updated in awhile, but I think that's a good thing! :)