The inspiration for the photo series stemmed from the fact that these young people use words like “brave,” “fearless” and “strong” to define themselves as they fight pediatric cancers and blood disorders. Eight-year-old Emmy (pictured) carries the "brave" flag, which is burgundy for sickle cell, while the yellow flags represent cancer. According to the hospital, she was diagnosed with sickle cell disease in early 2010, when she was just a week old. In the past eight years, she's been admitted to the hospital countless times for acute chest, pain crises, bloodstream infection, and so much more. Emmy still regularly comes to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for treatment, and pain management. And she has always been brave.
Holding the "hope" flag is 4-year-old Caroline who was diagnosed with brain cancer in early 2017 when doctors found a softball-sized tumor, according to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Though her parents were warned that the procedure to remove the large tumor could leave her paralyzed or blind, a neurosurgeon performed the operation with success, and she walked out of the hospital seven days later. During her six-month MRI in November 2017, another brain tumor was found and again removed. After two rounds of radiation and chemo, Caroline now goes for scans every eight weeks, and her most recent MRI was stable.
Fifteen-year-old DaJean, photographed with the "strong" flag, was diagnosed with sickle cell disease before birth and got used to regular medical treatments throughout his childhood. He's been a patient of the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center ever since his family moved to Georgia in 2010 for better care. DaJean’s mom says his doctors and nurses treat him like family and have been by his side through all of the ups and downs. He comes for a hospital visit at least once a month.
Carrying the "empowering" flag, 11-year-old Lana was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma at age 3 in late 2009, with cancer found in 97% of her bone marrow. She underwent rigorous treatment and these days is a "joyous, healthy" middle schooler. She's the daughter of Blackberry Smoke drummer Brit Turner, and his band has given more than $150,000 to-date to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center to fight pediatric cancer. This year, they pledged to match $50,000 in donations.
Fifteen-year-old Luke, who carries the "fearless" flag in the series, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in February 2018, after months of fevers, pain, tests and surgeries. The cancer had covered most of his body, from his head to his pelvis. Luke endured six months of intense inpatient rounds of chemotherapy, and after the treatment, his MRI and PET scan showed no sign of cancer.
There's no doubt these resilient, inspiring patients' stories and photos are incredibly powerful. With hope, their stories and the "In Their Own Words" photo series will spread hope to other young people and their families who are fighting similar battles.