GREENVILLE — Friendships can come in all different shapes and sizes, but few are like the relationship between Bree Town and Lola DeYoung, two Greenville girls diagnosed with different forms of leukemia.
It’s a friendship founded on understanding — the understanding each has of the hardships the other goes through, something few other friendships have. And even fewer are as strong.
“The girls kind of just fell in love with each other,” said Bree’s mother, Jennifer Town, whose family hadn’t known the DeYoungs prior to last year. They were introduced through a mutual friend.
Unlike most other children, Bree and Lola didn’t first meet in class, on the playground or at the park. Their first meeting was in a hospital room, soon after Bree, 10, had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which affects the myeloid line of blood, in May 2012. Lola, 7, was diagnosed a year earlier, in February 2011, with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Although they had never met, the connection was immediate.
“When they’re together they’re just kids. They’re having fun. They aren’t dreading what they’re going through or dwelling on what they’re going through,” said Lola’s mother Lindsey DeYoung. “They are just normal kids, playing and imagining.”
That first meeting led to a now year-long friendship. The two share visits at the hospital, or when home schedule play dates.
“They have so much in common. I think Lola looks up to Bree because Bree can understand what she goes through,” Town said. “It’s a very special friendship.”
And it’s a friendship that gives strength to both girls, the parents said.
“There’s someone else out there that can relate to her, just knowing she wasn’t different than everyone,” said DeYoung of what the children’s friendship means to the younger Lola. “She just doesn’t feel as alone as she would without Bree. She really looks up to Bree.”
That friendship has never been more important for the two girls, who are back in the hospital after recent relapses.
After a year of remission following six months of chemotherapy, Bree found out earlier this month her cancer had returned. She is back at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids in isolation as she undergoes high dosage chemotherapy. The search for a bone marrow match is underway, with hopes of a transplant early next year.
Lola went through more than two years of chemotherapy before returning home in April. She relapsed in July and is in and out of the hospital undergoing intense chemotherapy. Every third week Lola gets high doses of chemotherapy, and will continue on that schedule through the summer of 2015.
The girls find strength in each other, still visiting each other when they can.
Through the glass door of Bree’s isolation room — of which only her parents, doctors and nurses can enter — the girls still find ways to keep in touch.
“We didn’t know it would be important,” said Town of the benefit to the girls of having each other to talk to, “but it’s indescribable, really.”
The connection between the two families is not limited to just the two girls.
“We can barely understand ourselves what we going through because it’s so unbelievable,” said Town, adding that the coming together of the two families has been invaluable to the parents as well. “They just always know what to say.”
So these families, brought together through unfortunate circumstances, will continue to fight with and for each other as they continue to take each day at a time.
“It’s always good to have someone else out there that knows what you’re going through,” said DeYoung of the Towns. “Although we wish we weren’t on this path with the Towns, it helps to have someone who understands.”
BONE MARROW BENEFIT
What: Bone marrow drive.
When: 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 11.
Where: Baldwin Heights Elementary School gymnasium, Greenville.
Who: Anyone is welcome to come and give a mouth swab.
Why: To help find bone marrow matches for cancer patients in need of a bone marrow transplant.
Baldwin Heights Elementary School is hosting a bone marrow drive in order to help find a match for elementary student Bree Town, who is currently in isolation at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids while she undergoes chemotherapy. Town is in need of a bone marrow transplant after a recent relapse of her acute myeloid leukemia. Town is a 10-year-old student at Baldwin Heights.