“Wondering eyes and soft fluttery voices. But they were made out of thin invisible steel.” - A tree grows in Brooklyn

After spending time with sisters, Julia and Ava, it is easy to be reminded of the sisterly bonds depicted in classic literature. The unwavering support, playfulness, admiration, fierce loyalty and loving devotion is as inspiring as it is heartwarming.  Jane Austen’s Bennet sisters, the Romley women of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the March sisters of Little Women are clear comparisons that come to mind. Friends of Karen’s own, Julia and Ava are every bit the heroines of their own remarkable stories. The stories are not fairytales but rather journeys of struggle, grit and gumption and enduring bonds deeply rooted in their family tree.

Julia, 13, received a devastating cancer diagnosis in the midst of the global pandemic and smack in the middle of her tween/middle school years. Through vigorous treatments, hospital stays and procedures she has now concluded treatment and is looking forward to a future of health and normalcy. She is refreshingly honest, expressive and well spoken.  With a quiet strength and insightful nature she is wise beyond her years- often describing her current status as “coming out the other side”. Ava, 8, sassy, sweet and creative has endured her own challenges- carrying worries about her sister and adapting to changes in the family routine with care and understanding.

Both sisters received emotional support through the Sibling Support Program. Julia and Ava generously answered our questions below. You are invited to read their story below.

What are three adjectives that you would use to describe your sister?
Julia: Smart, funny, athletic
Ava: Kind, beautiful, strong.

Three adjectives to describe yourself?
Julia: Weird, brave and funny
Ava: strong, beautiful, creative

What was it like when you found out Julia had cancer?
Julia:My whole life was basically on a pause and it was heartbreaking.
Ava: Upsetting.

What has been the hardest part?
Julia:Probably the physical part. While the chemo destroys your cancer cells , it also destroys parts of you and who you were and you come out the other side a different person.
Ava: When she had to stay in the hospital for two weeks and I couldn't see her.

What/who has helped the most?
Julia: My family and the nurses who cared for me.
Ava: My dog and my nana. Yeah.

Tell us about Sibling Support and Art Therapy. What were your favorite things to do and how was it helpful?
Julia: It was helpful because I could get my feelings out not just with talking but with art- drawing and painting. She would then ask questions about the art and it was really nice to get it out there. My favorites were painting the masks and sculpting with model magic. 
Ava:It helped because whenever I made the creation , I think about /miss Siobhan. Se helped me forget my worries and feel good again.

What advice would you give to children in similar situations?
Julia: You have to stay really positive because there will be a lot of downs but you have to keep going because you will come out better on the other side.
Ava: Think about the good things that are still happening instead of focusing on the bad.

How were you able to stay connected through the challenges?
Ava: We video chatted and texted.

What big feelings did you have?
Julia: Probably sadness and anger. Now, I'm on the other side of that and feel really happy.
Ava:Sometimes sad, happy, worried, overwhelmed.  Daisy, my dog, helped me feel better when I'm sad.

What are you looking forward to in the future?
Julia: While I was in chemo I always thought about my future and my career and having kids and all that. I found it really helpful to look ahead- that's what I’m looking forward to ; kids and my career.
Ava: For Julia, I’m looking forward to her playing sports again and doing things she couldn't do when she had cancer. Also, I'm looking forward to her hair getting long again.

What makes your family special?
Julia: The people in it
Ava: We have such unique family members. Everyone does their own crazy thing and makes us laugh. 

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