Editor's Note: This guest post is by Jessica Hester, mother and founder of Brooke's Blossoming Hope for Childhood Cancer Foundation, the nonprofit that was featured in our February 2014 "The Power of Parents" column. Since the organization's official start in October 2012, Brooke's Blossoms has distributed more than 12,500 handmade flower headbands to pediatric cancer patients in 34 countries.
Brooke always had a head full of wispy, curly brown locks we called "wild child" hair—which also happened to fit her personality since she was happy and curious, and always smiling.
In September 2010, when Brooke was 3 and a half, she developed a painless limp. We thought she had unknowingly sprained something during her dance lesson the week prior. It didn't take long, however, for the painless limp to become painful. Less than a month later, she was no longer able to stand or go to preschool because of it. The pediatrician, perplexed, assumed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and put her on a specialist waiting list and pain medication.
Brooke began to experience nausea. The pain got worse. She was switched to stronger pain medication. The nausea got worse. She was given stronger medicine for that, too. But then, our tough little cookie who rarely ever cried, was not only entirely crippled, but was pointing to her belly button and spine tearfully explaining how badly it hurt all the way through her.
We demanded a sonogram.
They found something shadowy above her kidney. Suspecting a serious kidney stone, they ordered more tests, but after an MRI that November, the doctors explained it was a tumor—a large, malignant abdominal tumor that had metastasized throughout her lymph nodes and bones. At stage IV, this aggressive cancer, called Neuroblastoma, was killing our daughter quickly.
Three days later, Brooke's chemotherapy began, and her hair loss was the very least of our worries. But for Brooke, it was more traumatic than we expected—and it has continued to be, even after countless cycles of chemo and radiation over the last three and a half years.
During her initial course of chemotherapy, however, a gift from our neighbor Sunnie Jo helped Brooke cope with losing her hair. Sunnie Jo gave her a handmade flower blossom headband that she could wear to feel girly. It was soft and stretchy and perfect for the sensitive skin on her newly bald head. Brooke was delighted.
But when she saw another patient staring at her bright daisy headband, Brooke took it off and gave it to her to keep. She wanted the little girl, who had also lost her hair, to feel as happy as she did when she wore it.
When I called Sunnie Jo to explain that Brooke had given her gift away, she said not to worry and that next time she would make two of each color—one for Brooke to keep and one for her to share. And before we knew it, Brooke was saying, "Hair doesn't matter. It's just stuff."
Thus, Brooke's Blossoms was born.
Watching the joy on children's faces when they receive the blossom headbands—or hats and silly water squirting "boutonnieres" for the boys, since Brooke didn't want to leave anyone out—is really special. By October 2012, we had raised enough money to not only file to become 501c3 official, but also to meet the second part of our mission: to begin giving money to pediatric cancer research.
We know awareness leads to action and action to more advocacies on behalf of children like Brooke who fight and endure more than most adults do in a lifetime. And so even in the midst of Brooke still fighting, we turn with gratitude to our faithful followers and volunteers who make what we do possible.
Parents donated $500 to Brooke's Blossoming Hope for Childhood Cancer. To nominate your community-service project and to be considered for a donation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: (From left) Jessica Hester, daughter Brooke, and Sunnie Jo Stewart making blossom care packages.