The tutu girls: group of young cancer survivors reunites
NEW YORK (AP) - Lauren Glynn is the shy one with the toy husky dog. Smiley McKinley Moore has a doll with blonde hair just like hers, and Avalynn Luciano is the squirmer with the pretty white bow on her head. Together they are a brave group of cancer survivors known as the tutu girls.
All three or nearly all 7 years old, the three girls were diagnosed with leukemia in 2016 and they met at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida where they became quick friends. In the hospital they sang together and played ring-around-the-Rosy. They shared popsicles and kept each other company while they underwent brutal treatment.
That year, they posed for photos at the hospital in purple tutus with a fourth young cancer survivor, Chloe Grimes, and a tradition was born.
"We didn't know they'd make that bond," said Avalynn's mother, Alyssa Luciano, in Englewood, Florida. "They were just children to her."
The tutus and photos were the brainchild of Chloe's mother, Jacquie Grimes. She thought it was a great way to raise awareness about cancer in children. The hospital was happy to share their story of resilience and friendship.
After the girls finished treatment, the close mothers, all in Florida, held annual meetings. Once they met in a park. The other times, they gathered in the hospital. The girls always wore their tutus, although they changed from purple to gold, the color that symbolizes the fight against cancer in young people.
"It has become their tradition," said Luciano of the annual meeting. "They love it."
For a year they wore their gold tutus to a t-shirt reunion that reflected their hard journeys. One read "warrior" and the other read "brave", "fearless" and "strong".
As the coronavirus pandemic set in, the mothers found that seeing them in person this year was out of the question, but they didn't want to skip it. They used zoom instead, to the delight of tutu girls.
During last month's virtual reunion, the four excited friends put their tutus on again and compared how many milk teeth they had lost. McKinley had lost the most at seven. They informed each other about their pets or their search for pets, and McKinley shared that she recently cut her hair and donated it to help sick children, like her and her friends.
"I wish I could hug you guys," McKinley said. "Me too," the others interfered.
"Lauren, are you all feeling better?" McKinley asked after her friend had cancer again in 2018 and needed additional treatment.
"Hmmm, yeah," Lauren smiled with a floral headband instead of hair. Lauren managed to chuckle from her omniscient friends as she joked, "I had to stay in the hospital for 150 years!"
When Lauren had to return to the hospital in 2019, the tutu girls had their backs. They visited her to cheer her up and made smiles everywhere. They left drawings on the windows of their hospital room to remind them of their bond.
In a recent Zoom interview with The Associated Press, three of the four tutu girls got back together. Chloe's mother had a planning conflict so she couldn't go along. The other three announced what they would be for Halloween: Lauren will be a fox, Ava will be Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" and McKinley plans to dress up as Evie from the movie "Descendants". And they shared what they like most about each other.
"Being silly together," said Ava.
"I like that we are all healthy," she said.
Associate Press Writer Emily Leshner from New York contributed to this story.
While non-stop news about the effects of the coronavirus has become commonplace, there are stories of kindness too. "One Good Thing" is a series of AP stories that focus on glimmers of joy and benevolence in a dark time. Read the series here: https://apnews.com/OneGoodThing
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