'Little heroes': Childhood cancer survivors reunite for powerful remission photo

WATCH: Former cancer patients are continuing a powerful tradition for the 5th year in a row

Childhood cancer patients Rheann Franklin, Ainsley Peters and Rylie Hughey have known each other for five years — but when they first met, they weren’t sure they would even live for that long.

The sweet girls connected when Oklahoma photographer Lora Scantling put a call out for kids battling the deadly disease in 2014.

“These were the three that showed up,” Scantling told Global News.

The photographer wanted to highlight the girls’ battles, and the result was a powerful image that went viral on social media. Both Scantling and the girls’ parents were blown away by the response.

READ MORE: Told she had three months to live, she beat childhood cancer against all odds

“You don’t know what a true warrior looks like until you’ve met a little kid battling with a smile on their face,” Scantling said. “I love getting to meet these little heroes and capture their spirit and personalities.”

Scantling’s fans often reach out to her, asking for health updates on the little ones she’s photographed before. This prompted her to invite Franklin, Peters and Hughey back each year to capture their recovery process.

The latest photo is the fifth instalment.

“They are all old pros at this picture-taking business now!” Scantling said. “They know the pose, they know the order, they just know how to work the camera!”

Scantling says the annual “meet-up” reminds the young girls of what they’ve been through, while the photos serve as inspiration for other kids battling cancer.

The original viral photo, taken in 2014. From left to right: Rylie Hughey, Rheann Franklin, Ainsley Peters. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

The original viral photo, taken in 2014. From left to right: Rylie Hughey, Rheann Franklin, Ainsley Peters. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

Courtesy Lora Scantling

Five years later, Franklin, Peters and Hughey are all cancer-free, though Franklin is still dealing with residual health issues as a result of undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at such a young age.

She began growth-hormone treatment this year in an attempt to reverse the effects of treatment, which stunted her growth.

She’s in stage-2 kidney failure as a result of damage done by radiation to her organs, which also left her unable to grow hair. As well, her eyes will likely always droop due to damage from how the tumour sat on her brain stem.

Peters and Hughey are closely monitored by doctors, but their parents say they are living relatively normal lives.

The second image, taken in 2015. Scroll through to see all five photos. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

The second image, taken in 2015. Scroll through to see all five photos. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

The third image, taken in 2016. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

The third image, taken in 2016. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

The fourth image, taken in 2017. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

The fourth image, taken in 2017. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

Image five, taken in 2018. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

Image five, taken in 2018. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

Image six, taken this year. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

Image six, taken this year. (Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

In 2018, a four-year-old boy named Connor Lloyd joined the tradition. He’s currently undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“Connor’s family has been coming to me for years… he’s the first client of mine who was a client before he was diagnosed,” Scantling said. “ was a way to show that even though the girls are still cancer-free, there are other kids are being diagnosed every day.”

Connor’s parents are honoured to take part, and they hope their son’s involvement will spread awareness about the insidious nature of childhood cancer.

“ could happen to anyone at any time, unexpected. Two weeks before Connor’s diagnosis, he was given a clean bill of health at his standard three-year-old check-up,” said Connor’s parents in a statement to Scantling.

“We are fortunate that Connor has responded so well to treatment to date, but there is so much more that needs to be done with research and treatment of pediatric cancers.”

This year, the four kids honoured other Little Heroes who succumbed to their disease.

This year, the four kids honoured other Little Heroes who succumbed to their disease.

(Courtesy: Lora Scantling)

Scantling first started looking for cancer patients as a way to deal with her stepfather’s lung cancer diagnosis.

“I needed something that meant something for my own heart during such a rough time,” Scantling said. “I had a friend who had lost a little boy from cancer a few years earlier, and I did his portraits just before he passed away. That’s kind of how I decided I wanted to highlight childhood cancer.”

The popularity of the photo of Franklin, Peters and Hughey inspired Scantling to start the “Little Heroes” project, which aims to spread awareness about childhood cancer and other diseases.

“Since the first photo went viral, I’ve gone on to photograph many little fighters — not just cancer fighters, but other little ones in their own battles,” she said.

“I don’t think these girls will ever understand just how powerful a simple picture of the three of them hugging has been.”

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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