Chloe Grimes, Ava Luciano, McKinley Moore, and Lauren Glynn are barely out of kindergarten; but odds are, they’ll probably be friends for life. That’s because the four girls first met and formed an unbreakable bond back in 2016, while battling pediatric cancer together at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
During that tumultuous year, the foursome posed for an image that was used to help raise awareness about pediatric cancer. In it, the girls — who were just 3 and 4 at the time — were clearly very ill. And yet, all four were smiling, as they donned tutus, gold hair bows, and sat happily together, side-by-side.
In 2017, while still undergoing treatment, they reunited in the lobby of All Children’s to recreate the same photo. Instead of pink tutus, though, they wore gold ones, along with white T-shirts that each read the words, “brave,” “fearless,” “warrior,” and “strong.”
Then, just in time for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this September, the girls put on their gold tutus once more — except this time, there was one note-worthy difference: Their T-shirts all read “survivor,” to finally mark the end of their chemo treatments.
According to their parents, the girls’ bond was clear right from the start. But they weren’t the only ones who formed forever friendships since meeting two years ago — their parents did, too.
“We did not know any of the other girls or families before diagnosis,” says Alyssa Luciano, Avalynn’s mom. “However, McKinley’s mom Karen reached out to me shortly after diagnosis and then Lauren was diagnosed six weeks after us. Chloe’s mom and I met while inpatient right after Ava’s diagnosis. Lauren, Chloe, and Ava all spent a lot of time inpatient together and they all saw each other often in Clinic and in the infusion center.”
The four families, as it turned out, did not live terribly far from one another, which not only kept the girls close, but also allowed their parents to lean on each other while they waded through the uncertain and often frightening world of childhood cancer.
“The little ones would race Hot Wheels cars across the slick hospital floor,” Chloe’s mom, Jacquelyn Grimes, tells Babble. “Other patients who did not have parents by their side would partake, and we would play catch in the halls for countless hours. It would soon become the thing to do on 7 South.”
Grimes shares that many of the kids who were well enough would often eat pizza, cupcakes, and juice together in between the many grueling tests and procedures they underwent.
“The parents would network, share stories and support each other,” she says. “This is how we all became fast friends, we made the best of times in the worst of times.”
It was during that first year together of friendship that the girls originally caught the attention of hospital photographer Allyn D’vito, who followed them around the hospital and captured their poignant and sometimes heartbreaking moments together. It was also D’vito who captured the first tutu photos, back in 2016, and every one since.
“Allyn and I talked about getting the girls together to take the year later photo,” Grimes shares of the 2017 photo shoot. “Alyssa’s mother made shirts that represented each girl.”
The foursome, who have since been dubbed the “tutu girls,” still see each other often, their parents say. Usually, it’s at fundraisers, John’s Hopkins All Children’s clinic appointments, and even sporting events that help benefit supportive efforts around childhood cancer. But now that their futures are looking much brighter, who knows where their friendship will take them.
To parents who are just now facing the same agonizing journey these families have, Grimes offers this encouraging reminder:
“Children are resilient, they need laughter, fun, excitement and plenty of distractions. Try to find something positive for them to focus on when times are the toughest … It is okay to cry, but it is NEVER okay to give up. [Instead,] FIGHT.”
I have no doubt that these four little ladies will grow up to be strong, brave, and fearless warrior women, thanks to the parents who encouraged them to fight. Clearly, they’re already well on their way.More On