Facing cancer is something no child should have to do, and those who face it are tremendously courageous as they undergo procedures and treatment. At Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, the Beads of Courage program allows young patients to collect small mementos during their treatment, as they receive a special bead for every procedure or milestone, from blood draws to bigger milestones such as chemotherapy. It serves as a physical reminder of their bravery and courage.
Some children turn the beads into necklaces, while others maintain one long string, adding beads along the way. The program is supported by donors, whose contributions pay for the cost of the beads. Hospital staff and volunteers help enroll children after they are newly diagnosed.
At Mary Bridge, the program has special meaning to patients as they go through their treatments.
Five year-old Gabe Oleachea is facing leukemia, and he says the Beads of Courage helps him be brave through all the pokes and procedures he has to endure. He said he wants to use the hunting cabin in his back yard as a retail space until he’s older.
“I’m going to use it to sell courage beads until I’m old enough to go huntin’,” he said, adding that if he had a chance to say something to the creators of the program, he would thank them and give them a card full of rainbow stars.
Fifteen year-old Hanna Safley’s string of beads is more than 35 feet long and has 996 beads. She has been in treatment for lymphoblastic leukemia for two years, and by the time she finishes her treatment, she will have more than 1,000 beads. She has spent hours restringing them to make sure they’re in the right order.
“It tells my story,” she said. “It helped me look forward to something. Even if a poke hurt, I thought, ‘I’ll get a bead for this.’”
When her string is complete, she said she plans to frame it in a shadow box.
“It’s been a huge part of my journey,” she said. “I don’t think my journey would be the same without them.”