In some ways — superficial ways — the two girls couldn’t be more dissimilar.
Sadie, 9, has the fair skin and curly blonde hair. She’s the taller of the two, and the one who’s a little more chatty. She’s from Virginia.
Mia, 8, has long, straight, dark brown hair. She’s a California girl, and a little on the quiet side at first. Sweet and thoughtful.
Tall and short. East Coast and West Coast.
And a brain tumor in the middle of their heads.
In 2012, when the girls were toddlers, they shared toys together in a playroom at Ronald McDonald House (one of the housing facilities that is provided to patient families free of charge) as their moms compared notes.
“Mia had a tumor the size of an olive behind her eye,” says Mia’s mom, Grace.
Sadie’s brain tumor had gotten so big that it had caused her to sleep much more than normal and throw up first thing in the morning.
Both girls had been diagnosed with a craniopharyngioma brain tumor. They were both beginning proton beam radiation therapy on a St. Jude treatment plan.
Proton therapy targets radiation directly to the tumor, sparing the unaffected tissues and reducing the overall radiation dose — thus decreasing the long-term side effects of treatment.
They even had the same St. Jude doctor.
Over the course of 30 proton beam radiation therapy treatments that summer, the bond between the little girls grew. It wasn’t long before they decided to start a band.
“They had a little rock band for a while, and they were pretty funny,” says Sadie’s mom, Bobbie. “They had musical instruments in there, and they would play. Two other little boys were in the band. All four of them are doing well now, so that’s a blessing.”
Between visits to St. Jude, the girls meet up through FaceTime. They send presents in the mail to celebrate each other’s birthday.
Back at home in real life, you just don’t meet many other kids who’ve had a brain tumor.
Ever since treatment ended, the moms have scheduled their daughters’ follow-up appointments to fall on the same dates so they can spend time together.
Each return visit to St. Jude for scans brings some anxiety. What if the tumor has grown?
So it’s fun to get lost in the details of fashion. Sadie’s mom picks out the matching outfits for the girls, but doesn’t buy anything until Mia’s mom has a chance to approve them.
“She’s more stylish than me,” insists Bobbie.
There is no hospital in the world that can do what St. Jude does best. And that's trying to find cures to stop all children's illnesses.
You could say this is the story of a best friendship between two girls, but it’s also the story of a best friendship between two moms, who helped the stars align for their daughters.
They could have said goodbye when treatment ended in late 2012, but they knew there was something worth nurturing and attending to for all these years. Something worth vastly more than all those outfits.
True friendship. Hard won. Worth everything.