As I push aside heavy glass doors, a place that is typically thought to be filled with gloom suddenly transforms, and I find myself submerged in a room exploding with bright colors and bustling energy. I have just entered the lobby of the Children’s Hospital of UPMC of Pittsburgh, where the fearful notions of a hospital quickly dissolve into a welcoming harbor for the many children and their families visiting the facility every day.
Kathi, one of their many phenomenal Child Life Specialists, greets me as I walk towards her. I followed Kathi as we went up the elevator to the Oncology floor, where we then spent the next hour walking down the hallways, visiting patients from door to door. With each door and with each headband came the opportunity of meeting so many young girls, each who have remained the most inspiring people I have ever known.
One of the little girls was in containment and was unable to leave her room, but in the moment that I first met her, I would have never thought for a second that anything could possibly be holding her back. After moments of talking to her, I quickly realized that nothing was; cancer could not her back, and it could certainly not contain her. She was limitless. She was full of life. She wore a black and pink shirt that read “anything is possible”, and she was thrilled when we found her two headbands that matched her outfit perfectly.
We continued down the hallway and into the Clinic, where we stopped to visit the nurses on shift. They told me how beautiful the headbands are and how thankful they are for what we do. Kathi and I were about to leave when one of the nurses reminded us that we should visit the little girl down the hallway, Olivia, who had just been admitted for the first time following her diagnosis. She made a point to tell us how sweet she was, and how she had such long, beautiful hair.
One of the nurse’s gaze lowered as she told us, “For now, she still does.” In the midst of a day filled with many smiles and joy, I can remember exactly what it felt like in that moment to have my heart sink down to the floor with the thought that this beautiful child, completely unknowing and without control, will soon lose her hair to cancer. It is not only her hair that she is losing, it is her identity - her childhood.
As I walked into her room and said hello, I noticed her gorgeous hair and her soft, kind smile. Immediately my eyes drew to the many wires and tubes leading from her arms and stomach to various machines. For so many children with cancer, this will quickly become their conception of normality. Olivia, at only 6 years old, will spend such a large portion of her childhood only knowing the cold chill of a hospital room, the painful sting of potent medications; only knowing cancer. This thought clung to my chest as I glanced over towards her Mother and Grandmother, who were standing at the side of her bed.
I told Olivia that I had a surprise for her and I showed her the basket I had been carrying that displayed an assortment of bright, colorful headbands. We spent time sorting through them, making sure to find one that would match her eyes just perfectly. She tried them on for us and we told her how stunning she looked.
The nurse resumed giving Olivia her treatments while I spoke to her grandmother, who had smiled while watching us take silly pictures, trying on every headband we could find. She noticed the label sewn onto the inside and read aloud the letters that spelled “Headbands of Hope”. She looked down for a moment as she told me that hope was everything they had right now.
I glanced over to little Olivia, whose radiant smile had cast a glow over the entire room. In that moment, I was captivated by her calming presence and the strength that she seemed to emit effortlessly. I smiled as I told her Grandmother that hope is all they need.
I had thought many times before that I knew what hope was; what it meant and the particular feeling that overcame you when you have found it. I pictured it as a once heavy weight that suddenly disintegrated, finally lifting from your chest after years of resting dormant. The problem was that I only knew hope by its definition.
It wasn’t until I became involved as a Headband Hero that I truly encountered the irrepressible sensation of hope. A hope that revealed itself in the contrast of a small child’s face as it lit up amidst a somber hospital room. Hope that I witnessed in the smile that spreads uncontrollably as I hold to a mirror to a child’s face, showing her how beautiful she looks in her new headband. Hope that is the glimmer in their eyes as they see that they are beautiful without hair, that they are stronger than cancer.
Hope is embodied within life, within the act of living; displayed simplest in the inspiring way in which children live, with their courage and dreams completely unbounded, even in the face of this disease. It is both a rare and marvelous phenomenon to witness the success of tireless human endeavors; the triumphs of small glimpses of hope that accumulate one by one to form an unfathomable force of love.
Hope provided by the outstanding medical professionals and devoted child life specialists working tirelessly in Children’s Hospitals across the country. Hope cultivated by the undying love that is fostered by those providing continuous support to the many children and families who face the long battle against cancer. Hope that is made unbreakable by the thousands that will stand in solidarity in the fight against childhood cancer. Hope for the day that we find a cure.
And hope that arises, suddenly, with the bright eyes, bursting laughs, and beautiful smiles of a child who has just received a new headband.
Interested in being a Headband Hero? Click on this link for more info and the application.