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Three Girls in Cancer Photo That Went Viral All in Remission

Beth Greenfield

Three Girls in Cancer Photo That Went Viral All in Remission

From left, Ryley, Rheann and Ainsley, in the original image. Photo by Lora Scantling

The photo is striking: three little girls, each bald from chemo treatments to battle a different type of cancer, leaning into each other with their eyes closed. They stand beneath the cursive caption, “Sometimes strength comes in knowing that you are not alone!” The image went viral in April, melting the hearts of thousands of Facebook fans — but leaving a haunting feeling, too, because we couldn’t know how each child’s story would turn out.

Now we know, though, and the news couldn’t be better: All three girls are in remission.

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“Rheann was the only one still fighting, and she was still pretty sick and still projected to have quite some time to go,” the photographer, Oklahoma-based Lora Scantling, told Yahoo Health through a Facebook message about the 6-year-old who stood in the center of the photo. She had been battling a rare form of brain cancer called mucoid spindle sarcoma. “So of course when they declared her in remission, I cried! About a year before that photo was taken, she was so sick that the doctors told her family to prepare for the worst, because there was no way she would make it. She is a very strong girl.”

The other girls had pretty much won their battles by the time the photo went viral, and the good news still stands, according to their recent follow-up scans: Ryley, 3, has beaten a form of stage-five kidney cancer, while 4-year-old Ainsley remains in remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It’s a lucky three-for-three in beating the odds, because though survival rates have increased drastically over the past few decades, cancer is still the No. 1 cause of disease-related deaths among children, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization.

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From left, Ryley, Rheann and Ainsley today. Photos courtesy of Scantling Photography.

The original photo was the work of Scantling, of  Scantling Photography, and her studio partner, Christy Goodger, of Goodger Photography. The two, who share a studio is in Bethany, Oklahoma, decided to create the poignant images after finding the children through Facebook. “The girls had not met before, yet they bonded the instant they saw each other and it was like they knew they had a common bond,” Scantling told Yahoo in April about the studio shoot, for which the three got gussied up in vintage clothing and flapper-style headbands from local boutiques. 

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Scantling, who has been thrilled and overwhelmed with the reaction to her work, found inspiration for the photo concept from the cancer that was affecting her own family: Her stepfather was battling stage-four lung cancer at the time, but died in May. “It was very hard losing him,” she tells Yahoo Health. “I know he was very proud of me taking a picture that was so inspiring about such a terrible disease, and I know that he would want me to continue to use my gift this way.”

She’s been doing just that, as she and Goodger have been working with Ally’s House, a children’s cancer foundation in Oklahoma, to create even more poignant images, some of which can be seen on the project’s Facebook page.

And if the mom of superstar survivor Rheann is any indication, the photos make a huge difference in the lives of those who get to pose. “It was so heartwarming, getting all the messages from around the world!” Valerie Franklin tells Yahoo Health through a Facebook message about the public reaction to the viral image. “It has really helped keep our spirits up, and helped us to see the impact that all of our daughters have had on the world with this one photo shoot.”

Between the time of Rheann’s diagnosis in 2012 and now, her mom explains, she has undergone five brain surgeries, chemotherapy, and proton radiation — all of which seem to have saved her life. “The doctors didn’t think she would make it through last summer,” she says, “but she sure proved them wrong.”