NEW YORK – Lauren Glynn is the shy one with the toy husky dog. Smiley McKinley Moore has a doll with blond hair just like hers, and Avalynn Luciano is the squirmer with the pretty white bow on top of her head. Together, they are a brave posse of cancer survivors known as the tutu girls.
All age 7 or nearly so, the three girls were diagnosed with leukemia in 2016 and met at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, where they became fast friends. In the hospital, they sang together and played ring-around-the-rosy. They shared popsicles, and kept each other company while undergoing 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.
“Little did we know they were going to form this bond,” said Avalynn's mom, Alyssa Luciano in Englewood, Florida. “To them, they were just being kids.”
The tutus and photos were the idea of Chloe's mom, Jacquie Grimes. She thought it would be a good way to raise awareness about childhood cancer. The hospital was happy to share their story of resilience and friendship.
After the girls completed treatment, the close-knit moms, all in Florida, organized annual reunions. Once, they met in a park. The other times, they gathered at the hospital. Always, the girls wore their tutus, though they changed from purple to gold, the color that symbolizes the fight against cancer in the young.
“It's become their tradition,” said Luciano of the annual meetups. “They love it.”
One year, they wore their gold tutus to a reunion with T-shirts that reflected their tough journeys. One read “warrior” and the others “brave,” "fearless" and “strong.”
When the coronavirus pandemic descended, the moms realized an in-person reunion this year was out of the question, but they didn't want to skip it. They used Zoom instead, to the delight of the tutu girls.
During the virtual reunion last month, the four excited friends donned their tutus once again, comparing how many baby teeth they had lost. McKinley had lost the most at seven. They updated each other on their pets, or their quest for pets, and McKinley shared that she had recently cut her hair and donated it to benefit children who are sick, as she and her pals had been.
“I wish I could hug you guys,” McKinley said. “Me, too,” the others chimed in.
“Lauren, are you all better?” McKinley asked, after her friend suffered a cancer recurrence in 2018 and required additional treatment.
“Hmmm, yeah,” Lauren smiled, with a flower headband in place of hair. Lauren brought on giggles from her all-knowing buddies when 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 her back. They paid her a visit to cheer her up, bringing on smiles all around. They left behind drawings on her hospital room windows as a reminder of their bond.
In a recent Zoom interview with The Associated Press, three of the four tutu girls reunited once again. Chloe's mom had a scheduling conflict so she couldn't join in. The other three shared what they were going to be for Halloween: Lauren will be a fox, Ava will be Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” and McKinley plans to dress as Evie from the film “Descendants.” And they shared what they like most about each other.
“Being silly together,” Ava said.
“I like that we're all healthy,” she said.
Associated Press writer Emily Leshner in New York contributed to this story.
While nonstop news about the effects of the coronavirus has become commonplace, so, too, have tales of kindness. “One Good Thing” is a series of AP stories focusing on glimmers of joy and benevolence in a dark time. Read the series here: https://apnews.com/OneGoodThing