Snuggling. Holding hands. Sneaking a kiss.
The special bond between Delaney Viewig and her grandma, Judi Henrion, is obvious.
During the past year, 70-year-old Henrion has waged a courageous and faith-filled battle against ovarian cancer.
She wears a bracelet from a friend, engraved with encouraging words such as “belief,” “hope” and “inspiration.” The kinds of attributes she embraces every day. The intangibles that kept her spirits up in the worst of times.
Henrion’s diagnosis came last year around the Fourth of July, leading her to cancel plans to spend a month with her grandchildren at the family cottage in Michigan’s upper peninsula.
Family means a lot.
Throughout hospitalizations, surgery, chemotherapy, infusion treatments and hair loss, her family has been by her side.
Including 12-year-old Delaney, whom Henrion has nicknamed Delaney Doodle.
When a teacher challenged Delaney and her seventh-grade classmates to write down and work toward a goal, her thoughts went beyond personal achievement.
“I decided I wanted to raise $300 for ovarian cancer research,” Delaney said. “That seemed like a lot of money to me.”
Delaney’s mom, Laurel Viewig, Spectrum Health manager of hospitality operations supporting the Spectrum Health Grand Rapids gift shops and Renucci Hospitality House, challenged her thinking.
“My mom said, ‘That is not enough. Go big!’”
With help from Laurel, Delaney posted a video on Facebook about her goal of raising $800 for ovarian cancer research between April 1 and Memorial Day.
Within 24 hours she surpassed her goal, receiving dozens of donations from friends and family, including $5 from Delaney’s then 8-year-old brother Baden.
“Mind-blown,” said Delaney, popping her hands from her skull.
At that point, she had a new idea.
“We were still collecting, and I said I want to shave my head to support kids with cancer and any kind of hair-loss issues,” Delaney said.
On Easter, she told her plan to her grandma, who hesitated to support the idea but cried at Delaney’s thoughtfulness. Her mom also had reservations, but then relented.
“As a mother, I don’t want my kid to shave her head,” Laurel said. “But who am I to say no to her, when she wants to make a difference in the world?”
On April 21, Delaney’s hairdresser sectioned her hair into small ponytails, then cut them off one by one, handing them to a beaming Delaney. Friends and family, including her then-bald grandma, gathered close by as her head was shaved. Mom, Laurel, posted a new video, “Delaney, the brave influencer,” on Facebook and YouTube.
Thankfully, her classmates showed support, complimenting her new look and admiring her bravery.
And donations poured in from friends and strangers alike.
By Memorial Day, Delaney raised $2,600.
“That’s just amazing for one small girl with a huge heart,” Henrion said.
Ringing in summer
In April, Henrion rang the bell right off the wall.
“I rang that bell three times with conviction so others in the full infusion room, examination and waiting rooms of the Gyn-Onc suite could hear the sound of hope,” Henrion wrote on CaringBridge.org, where she kept friends apprised of her journey.
Although her oncologist, Dr. Harrison, isn’t using the word “remission,” Henrion’s treatments are finished. She will be monitored quarterly and she’s hopeful she’ll be among the 40 percent of patients who are cured.
Despite neuropathy in her hands and feet, combined with occasional fatigue, Henrion is excited about what she calls this “bonus” summer. She and her husband, Bill, will continue a family tradition of hosting their three grandchildren at the family cottage for an entire month.
Looking ahead, Delaney has set her sights on being an attorney, although she changes her mind from week-to-week.
Her grandma has another goal.
“I want to be like Delaney when I grow up,” she said with a smile.
“So do I,” said Delaney’s mom.