By Nate Russell, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
June 4th, 2016 – Inside of a high school gymnasium, filled with volunteers in scrubs, carefully assembling medical equipment, sits a small table festooned with party favors, balloons, and a birthday cake.
When the star of the show arrives, she’s at first too timid to enter the gymnasium. The four-year-old sees the machines used for sucking up “strawberry juice” and decides she had forgotten some important business back in the car. Strawberry juice is what she likes to call the blood and blood products she’s had to receive over the last year.
“It’s okay, Raleigh,” her mom assures her, “They won’t be giving you any strawberry juice today. This is for people that want to give their strawberry juice so that other kids like you can use it later.”
Raleigh wears an over-sized tutu comprised of more colors than most grown-ups can name, under a t-shirt reading ‘Cancer was tough, but I am tougher’. Her fears subside when her friend arrives, and the two are set loose upon the crayons and poster boards.
“She was diagnosed last January—2015,” her mother tells me. “She went through a year of chemo, six weeks of radiation, and then a surgery. She just went into remission this past February.”
As she watches her daughter dance to the upbeat music with reckless abandon, Britnee Hogue thinks back to when times weren’t as great. “The hardest part is watching her go through it, knowing there’s only so much you can do like when she was super sick, and you know it’s out of your control. But then there were days that she was doing really good, and that carried me through it.”
To any parents out there in a similar situation, she encourages them to “be open and share. And make others aware. The more people that are aware, the more people that are willing to give, and to donate, and to put forth the effort to make a difference. And of course, to just keep fighting.”
The online community has offered the most support, and Raleigh’s story has gone viral over social media with the hashtag #TeamRaleigh. That is how the Red Cross became involved.
“The Red Cross has been a huge help, not only because she had to get so many transfusions, but by being so supportive. Not just through blood donations, but by constantly checking on Raleigh, and my family. Just being able to share her story to impact others. We didn’t realize how big of an impact it actually made until I saw it first hand. It was huge to us.”
Since putting cancer into remission, Raleigh’s hair has started to grow back, she’s full of energy, and generally seems like a very happy kid.
Just one donation of “strawberry juice” has the power to save up to three lives. Learn more about donating blood by visiting www.redcrossblood.org.
Click the photo below to see photos from Raeleigh’s blood drive: