There was a night when it seemed like everyone in Philipsburg held their breath.
It was a late April night in 2012. Over the past months, second-grader Emily Whitehead had become everyone’s honorary baby sister. She was fighting leukemia, and if anything spread more infectiously than those scary little cells, it was support for the little girl who loved purple.
It started with fundraisers. We could do that. We could raise the money that helped her parents stay by her side and hold her hands through treatments and tests and all the ugliness when only Mom’s arms and Daddy’s voice will do.
But as the fight dragged on into the spring, money seemed less important. Prayers propped the family up and science beat the cancer back as Emily became the first kid in the world to battle leukemia using an unlikely ally, HIV.
On April 25, it seemed like things were at their lowest point, that the treatment wasn’t working. We checked Facebook, checked our phones, prepared to have to say goodbye to Emily the way we had to our last miracle child, Kelsey Burnsworth, who lost a 17-year battle against leukemia just a year before.
But then everything changed. Emily started to rally, then to heal. Within days, she was on the way back. Now, almost 2 1/2 years later, her adorable pixie face has made her a poster child for not only Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where her treatment broke ground, but for a steadfast refusal to give up in anything.
That’s why no one in Philipsburg will be surprised to see Emily on television Friday.
Emily will be one of the patient success stories featured in the simulcast event for Stand Up to Cancer, a one-hour fundraising event airing simultaneously on broadcast and cable networks across the country. She will share screen time with celebrities of all kinds. Past participants have included George Clooney, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Julia Roberts and so on, more than even promoters of the event can list in their materials.
The program, co-founded by Katie Couric, who lost her husband to colon cancer, pursues progress in new and innovative treatments, just like the one that a little girl from Philipsburg showed was possible.
Emily is more than just a cancer patient. She is more than just a cancer survivor. She is active, energetic and capable of doing amazing things in her whole amazing life. But on Friday, because of this, the whole country will see her for what we know her to be, a Philipsburg’s superstar.