For most, it is unimaginable that a child can be diagnosed with cancer. When it happens, everyone in the community wants to pitch in and help. Obviously, the patient’s parents are immediately overwhelmed with the treatment itself, and so many well-meaning offers of help can add stress to an already stressful time.
Brynn Draughon found herself in this situation in June after her daughter, Ellie, was diagnosed with cancer. Faced with a treatment that would force long hospital stays, she didn’t know how to channel the outpouring of love from her community. But then she and a friend came up with a brilliant plan.
Ellie has always loved Christmas. Since she was little, she has wanted her house to be awash in Christmas lights. Her dream has been to be in the family car, see lights from a distance, and feel the contented glow from her beautifully lit home. Unfortunately, her house is surrounded by trees, and it would take far too many lights to be bright enough to be seen from the street.
Earlier this year, Ellie’s leg started hurting. After visits to different doctors to identify the cause of her pain, a biopsy indicated that Ellie had osteosarcoma, a childhood bone cancer usually found around the knee. She started chemo right away, followed by surgery in September. The surgery took a good portion of her femur, most of her knee, and part of her tibia. The remaining bones were reinforced with rods to strengthen the new joint.
“She is recovering well,” said Brynn. “She still has pain and walks with a walker, but she has handled treatment better than I expected. Ellie has had a very positive attitude through the whole thing.”
Ellie is the youngest of four children and a senior at Woodstock High School. When her school and community learned of her diagnosis, offers of help poured out.
“We had so many friends, family members, neighbors, and strangers who wanted to help,” recalled Brynn. “While having a child diagnosed with cancer is the worst thing that can happen to a parent, the flip side is that you get to see a beautiful side of this world as people rush in to help.”
Brynn struggled with suggestions of how people could help until she remembered Ellie’s Christmas light dream. She decided that making that happen might be a way to keep Ellie’s spirits high during her long treatment. With the help of friend and fellow cancer mom, Anita Corsini, Brynn began the process of making Ellie’s dream a reality. Neighbors, classmates, and complete strangers donated toward Lights for Ellie, and it didn’t take long for the fund to grow well beyond what was needed. Together they found a lighting company to set up 15,000 lights in Ellie’s yard.
“We tried to keep it a secret from her, but there was no way we could,” laughed Brynn. “Ellie watched them set up the lights up one Saturday. When it got dark, we got in the car and drove around the block so she could see them as we approached. It was the first night she had felt true joy since she was diagnosed. We know it’s early for lights, but it really isn’t about Christmas. It’s about making Ellie smile – and hopefully bringing joy to others.”
Since their fund went way over the amount needed to set up the lights, the family has decided to donate what is left to CURE as a way to pay-it-forward. They’ve even put a sign in their yard thanking the community and pointing people to CURE as a way to raise awareness for childhood cancer.
And what does Ellie think about all of this?
“It’s really special to me that everyone in my community came together to make one of my childhood dreams come true,” Ellie said.
When she is home from treatment, she loves to sit by the window and look at the lights. It also makes her happy when people slow down to look at them.
Well done, Woodstock. You brought a young lady incredible joy during the hardest of circumstances.