With glittery headbands, golden ribbons and matching tutus, four adorable little girls gathered to play. Just a summer afternoon until you notice the sparkling gold words on their matching shirts:
Warrior. Fearless. Brave. Strong.
These four little girls—and their equally fearless, strong and brave moms—gathered for a reunion. Not to celebrate a fourth birthday, or a preschool graduation, but for a celebration. A championship.
Chloe, 4, McKinley, 4, Lauren, 4, and Avalynn, 3, are all cancer free.
Their hair is now long enough for colorful ribbons, their smiles are strong. Their laughter rings out in the lobby at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital where each one was treated for cancer. Three received the same diagnosis: pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) while Chloe was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer.
“Oh you all look so good,” exclaims Morgan Melander, R.N., who hasn’t seen them since they were ill. All four girls are in remission, but Lauren and Avalynn are still receiving treatment, a rough go for any child.
TuTu Tuesdays are celebrated in September—pediatric cancer month—on 7 South, the nickname for the part of the seventh floor of Johns Hopkins All Children’s that includes the cancer unit.
These girls first participated in a TuTu photo shoot as patients, but this reunion brings excitement at the chance to see each other again. The moms, who relied heavily on each other for support, information and comfort during their daughters’ treatment, share the affection.
“We’ve all been on 7 South together during treatment, for clinic visits and everything else,” explains Chloe’s mom, Jacquie.
“The bond formed between our patients and families is untouchable,” adds Melander, who works on 7 South. “We are one big family that supports each other and the medical team comes together to make their hospital stays the most fun we can. We have dance parties, movie nights, family dinners, silly string wars and anything we can to provide some ‘normal’ for our kiddos. Our floor is one big community.”
That community holds tight. Shawna, Lauren’s mom, actually knew McKinley’s mother, Karen, from a Bradenton moms group and when McKinley was diagnosed first, Shawna took dinner over to the family to ease their burden. Before she knew it, Lauren was diagnosed.
“Shawna called me from Johns Hopkins All Children’s and said, ‘They think Lauren has cancer,’ and I drove up to the hospital immediately,” Karen recalls. They helped each other through it and along the way met Jacquie and Alyssa, Avalynn’s mom.
“We’d love to meet like this to celebrate every year,” Shawna adds.
"Whether they like it or not,” Alyssa concludes, “these girls are all bonded together forever. So are we.”