Finding Connection Again: Olivia’s Story

“Olivia is certainly one of the most easygoing humans I have ever known,” Olivia’s mom, Kimmie, said.

It’s an apt way to describe Olivia: she’s a bright and optimistic girl who’s always ready to smile and cheer others on. She loves soccer, dancing, holidays, and her family. She’s always ready to greet others with a big hug.

But at the start of 2023, the family received devastating news: At age six, Olivia was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

“You never think that it could be your kid who has cancer,” said Kimmie. But that was their reality, and with it came significant changes. Kimmie and her husband, Andy, quickly moved into survival mode.

“We had to figure out how this new way of life would work,” she said.

The New (Not) Normal

“My number one goal was keeping Olivia’s spirits up in the hospital,” Kimmie said.

Kimmie would stay at the hospital during the week while Andy cared for Olivia’s siblings at their home in Portland, and they’d swap roles on weekends.

The following seven months were a scary time filled with unknowns, but Kimmie found ways to brighten her daughter’s days: She decorated Olivia’s hospital room with different themes for each stay. She brought activities to pass the days. She also found JoyRx.

Coping Through Connection

Olivia was matched with JoyRx Mentor, Alyssa, whose weekly visits quickly became a highlight in Olivia’s life. Alyssa brought welcome distraction and fun through craft projects, music, and chatting for hours.

Olivia also met JoyRx Music Specialists Alex, Cristina, and Jean, who would sing with her almost every Tuesday and Thursday while she was in the hospital.

“She always looked forward to their visits,” her mom said. “They would learn Liv’s favorite songs and come back the next week, and we would sing them together.”

Singing with the JoyRx Music team was a highlight of Olivia’s week.

“It meant so much that they would learn to sing her songs and truly enjoyed singing with her,” said Kimmie. “It was something special.”

Celebrating the Wins

The connections Olivia formed with her JoyRx Mentor and the JoyRx Music team went beyond just visits to her hospital room.

Olivia invited the music specialists to help her celebrate two milestone events: her graduation with her mentor and her bell-ringing ceremony.

At her Mentorship graduation, Cristina sang one of Olivia’s favorite songs, “Someday,” from Disney’s Zombies, while Olivia and Alyssa celebrated their sweet bond with cupcakes and balloons.

The team also attended her bell-ringing ceremony, marking the completion of her treatment plan. Alex, Jean, and Cristina were honored to play Olivia’s favorite songs at the event. Olivia requested “Dancing in the Dark,” by Rihanna and “Fight Song,” by Rachel Platten —two songs that set the mood for an inspiring bell chime.

“It was a very emotional and special celebration,” said Cristina. “We were so happy to be part of it!”

Finding Joy in Nature

In September, Olivia and her family enjoyed a visit to JoyRx Nature’s Alexandra Ellis Caring Cabin on the Oregon coast to cap off the long journey.

“It was so wonderful,” Kimmie said of their stay. “She thrived the entire trip. She never stopped smiling.”

One day during their visit, Olivia climbed up the Cape Kiwanda Sand Dune — a standout feature of Pacific City that is over 200 feet tall. And then she did it again the next day.

It was a triumphant moment for Kimmie, watching her daughter climb the daunting dune with a smile.

“If that’s not an indicator of her strength, I don’t know what is,” her mom marveled. “It was a special moment to see her at the top of the hill, living her best life.”

Moving Forward

Today, the family is focusing on recovery and reconnection at home. The past seven months have been hard, but Kimmie is able to reflect on the lessons they carry with them.

“Going through a cancer diagnosis is something no one ever envisions for their family,” said Kimmie. “It’s a world you never want to be part of, but it sure is filled with a lot of special people who love and care for your kids and your family during the hardest part of your life. I would encourage families to be open to everything that JoyRx offers,” she said. “It made an impact on Liv and our family. It’s something that kept all our spirits up.”

Today, Olivia is rediscovering her love for her favorite things. She is now enrolled in a weekly dance class, and she plans to play soccer again next spring. But hands down, her favorite thing to do is to snuggle with her mom and dad now that the family is back together again.

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