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Ballet brought big joy for this courageous 14-year-old battling cancer.

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Northwestern Mutual

Peyton had just finished performing in her seventh production of "The Nutcracker" when she started feeling extremely exhausted.

"I had dress rehearsals, dance, cheerleading, and seventh-grade homework, so I thought I was just really tired and sore," Peyton says.

But her mom, Carrie, knew better. "The change literally happened overnight. She lost 10 pounds in three weeks. She went from dancing in 'The Nutcracker' in December to being ridiculously tired in January," Carrie says.


It was watching Peyton's ballet class that really struck Carrie.

"Peyton was so exhausted that she couldn't get up on her pointe shoes," she says. "In that moment, I knew something was seriously wrong."

A visit to the pediatrician the next day verified Carrie's worries. After examining Peyton, the doctor asked Carrie if she knew what was wrong. While Carrie had never known anyone personally with leukemia, she whispered "leukemia." He nodded "yes."

That night, the Richardsons found themselves at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, about 20 miles from their hometown of Sugar Land.

"They asked what we were there for and I told them possibly leukemia. They handed Peyton a face mask," says Carrie. "I thought I was going to faint. It's something you never ever imagine going through in your life."

A few days later, it was confirmed that Peyton had acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer.

She began chemotherapy the next day on Jan. 23, 2015, and ended it 844 days later on May 15, 2017.

Treatment was intense and caused Peyton serious side effects, including anaphylaxis and seizures, which resulted in her inability to walk, talk, and move her body for a while.

Still, she remained determined to get back to ballet.

"I was in the hospital for two weeks before I started having outpatient visits. At my first outpatient visit, my doctor asked if I had any questions. I said, 'When can I dance again?'" Peyton recalls.

She meant it.

And two months into her treatment, Peyton was back on the dance floor.

"A few months earlier, she literally could not lift her foot an inch above the ground, and here she was dancing across the floor," says Carrie. "Everyone in that room was crying."

Peyton also took private dance lessons throughout her treatment to help gain strength back.

Her dedication and love of ballet was well-known among her doctors, so when Northwestern Mutual’s Childhood Cancer Program held a contest asking kids to share their greatest adventure, Peyton’s doctor at Texas Children’s Hospital immediately knew she had to enter.

Her entry, which focused on her love of dance, won, and resulted in a ballerina-inspired float during the 2016 Rose Parade as part of the company's initiative to spread awareness about childhood cancer.

As she sat atop the float, Peyton says that despite being drained from treatment she was overcome with gratitude for the chance to represent all those who were fighting childhood cancer.

And that’s a big audience to stand up for. More than 15,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S.

The good news? Survival rates for childhood cancer continue to increase, thanks to improved treatments through research. That means the more research that can get funded, the better.

"I think seeing me on the float in the middle of treatment gave other kids going through the same thing hope that it would be OK," says Peyton.

And for children like Peyton, those moments of hope — whether they come in the form of pointe shoes or a float in a parade — are ones to embrace.

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