St. Jude patient offers her own balloon art to everyone she meets

Misheel’s balloon creations take many forms, but always wind up looking like love.

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  •  5 min

St. Jude patient Misheel taught herself to make balloon animals, and gives them away

Picture 11-year-old Misheel, bald from chemotherapy, pulling up a chair on the second-floor inpatient unit. A younger child shouts, “The balloon girl!” 

Suddenly, she’s surrounded by other children. She reaches into her backpack for colorful balloons and inflates and twists them into a bunny, then a unicorn, then a giraffe, then a butterfly. 

St. Jude patient Misheel taught herself to make balloon animals, and gives them away

Then she gives them all away.

During Misheel’s nearly seven months of treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, she learned to make balloon creations and gifted them to her comrades in cancer treatment. 

She took requests. If she didn’t know how to make what a particular child wanted, she would look online for video tutorials until she figured it out. 

One day her mom, Undrakh, posted to an online support group of St. Jude parents that if their children were having a hard time, Misheel could make them whatever they wanted with her balloons.

“Ever since then, the requests started rolling in,” said Undrakh. 

Undrakh heard stories of children who loved princesses or of kids who wanted a monkey climbing a tree or a teddy bear. There were kids who were missing a favorite pet — could she make a dog for them? 

All these St. Jude parents who just wanted to make their kids smile, and Undrakh’s daughter could do that for them. 

“I don’t know why, but I just like seeing people’s faces happy,” said Misheel.

Your child is strong

Picture the same little girl in a hospital room at St. Jude hooked to a chemotherapy line, saying to Undrakh, “Don’t you worry, Mom. I’m OK.” 

St. Jude patient Misheel taught herself to make balloon animals, and gives them away

Misheel never complained, said Undrakh, not even on the “really hard days, especially with the lumbar puncture when she couldn’t even move.”

Undrakh worried she minimized her pain, so she sometimes begged Misheel, “What do you feel? I’m here for you to listen to you,” and only then would Misheel admit to her mom, “It’s hurting.”

“Those days were hard,” said Undrakh, “but she tries to find a way to make it better. She’s like, ‘It’s OK because you’re trying to help me.’ That’s who she is. She just wants to show the brighter side of everything and just wants to be happy.”

Misheel was 11 years old in the summer of 2023 when her parents noticed no matter how much water she drank, she still felt thirsty. At first, they thought it was a healthy habit, far preferable to drinking juice or soda. But her thirst was never quenched. Misheel began excusing herself to go to the restroom so frequently they knew something must be wrong. 

St. Jude patient Misheel taught herself to make balloon animals, and gives them away

Undrakh took Misheel to the family doctor near their home in Illinois. Tests revealed a tumor on Misheel’s pituitary gland, as well as two other spots in her brain. She was diagnosed with a type of cancer called mixed germ cell tumors. 

Soon, her parents obtained a referral to St. Jude

Through chemotherapy and radiation, Misheel often paused to thank the doctors and nurses and other St. Jude staff. 

She particularly bonded with the valet personnel who, she told her mom, had the hardest job of all, working outside in whatever kind of weather and always staying so pleasant and kind to the families. How could she feel bad when there were so many wonderful people helping?

So, she made balloon creations for the St. Jude staff, too, and would say to them, “There’s a lot of different colors because you all added color to my life by healing me.”

Video: Misheel tells Matthew McConaughey about making balloon animals

Her balloons often came with these sorts of pep talks — the right words at the right time. Like when she saw a man crying in the hallway at St. Jude with his family, and she went to comfort him.

“It’s going to be OK,” said Misheel. “Do you want me to make you something to feel better?”

He told her yes.

St. Jude patient Misheel taught herself to make balloon animals, and gives them away

It was only later that Undrakh learned that the man had been grieving back-to-back tragedy: His father had died one day, and the next day, his preschool-aged child had been diagnosed with cancer. Now, here they were at St. Jude.

“You need to be strong for your child,” said Misheel. “Your child is strong, but he or she is even stronger with you, so be strong.” 

With that, Misheel handed him a Ninja Turtle.

She ran with it

Now picture Misheel listening intently to the older man sitting next to her at St. Jude, watching the 82-year-old closely as he shows her how to create the first four balloons she will ever make: a flower, a sword, and two types of dogs.

This is Robert Dunn, her godfather. On the circus stage, his name is Robert “Onionhead the Clown” Dunn, although today he’s not performing.

St. Jude patient Misheel taught herself to make balloon animals, and gives them away

Misheel knows Dunn through UniversalSoul Circus, where her father, Gantulkhurr, is part of an acrobatic teeterboard troupe from Mongolia called The Nomads. 

When Misheel and her family moved to the U.S. from Mongolia in 2019 for her father’s job, she didn’t speak English. It was a whole new language and culture. But a circus is a traveling family of sorts, and Dunn, who values education, often purchased books for the children of the performers and encouraged them to read. 

“My daughter is the one who finishes the book and talks to him about the book, and she would always have a conversation with him,” said Undrakh.  

Dunn and Misheel’s family live hundreds of miles from each other, and Misheel and Dunn are separated in age by several decades, but that didn’t matter. She’d finish a book, and he’d send her another one.

“They talk on the phone about them. They play chess on the phone as well,” said Undrakh. “They’re like same-age people.”

Dunn nicknamed Misheel “Da Professor.” 

“I gave her a book of about 90 quotes, and she would read the quote, Google it, then read the biography, then she’d print the biography out and put it in the back of the book,” said Dunn. “So, she’s very good at learning.”

When Misheel was diagnosed with cancer, “It tore me up,” said Dunn. “It hurt me so much.”

St. Jude patient Misheel taught herself to make balloon animals, and gives them away

So, he visited her family at St. Jude soon after she started treatment. 

To help cheer her up, he taught her how to make a few balloon creations, knowing it might spark something.

“She took it from there and ran with it,” said Dunn. “She’s better than me at making animal balloons now.” 

Misheel had come to the U.S., a strange and unfamiliar place, and Dunn showed her family friendship.

Misheel pays his kindness forward every day — or every time she reaches into her backpack for another balloon.  

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