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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.

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
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It is said that once you've seen something, you can't unsee it. This is exactly what is happening in America right now. We have collectively watched the pot of racial tension boil over after years of looking the other way, insisting that hot water doesn't exist, pretending not to notice the smoke billowing out from every direction.

Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away—it prolongs resolution. There's a whole lot of harm to be remedied and damage to be repaired as a result of racial injustice, and it's up to all of us to figure out how to do that. Parents, in particular, are recognizing the importance of raising anti-racist children; if we are unable to completely eradicate racism, maybe the next generation will.

How can parents ensure that the next generation will actively refuse to perpetuate systems and behaviors embedded in racism? The most obvious answer is to model it. Take for example, professional tennis player Serena Williams and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

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Two years ago, I got off the phone after an interview and cried my eyes out. I'd just spent an hour talking to Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that helps fight child sex trafficking, and I just couldn't take it.

Ballard told me about how the training to go undercover as a child predator nearly broke him. He told me an eerie story of a trafficker who could totally compartmentalize, showing Ballard photos of kids he had for sale, then switching gears to proudly show him a photo of his own daughter on her bicycle, just as any parent would. He told me about how lucrative child trafficking is—how a child can bring in three or four times as much as a female prostitute—and how Americans are the industry's biggest consumers.

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As you sit down to eat your breakfast in the morning or grab an afternoon snack, take a minute to consider your food, how it was made, and how it got to your plate.

The fruit on your plate were grown and picked on farms, then processed, packaged and sent to the grocery store where you bought them.

Sounds simple, right?

The truth is, that process is anything but simple and at every step in the journey to your plate, harm can be caused to the people who grow it, the communities that need it, and the planet we all call home.

For example, thousands of kids live in food deserts and areas where access to affordable and nutritious food is limited. Around the world, one in three children suffer from some form of malnutrition, and yet, up to 40% of food in the United States is never eaten.

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I saw this poster today and I was going to just let it go, but then I kept feeling tugged to say something.

Melanie Cholish/Facebook

While this poster is great to bring attention to the issue of child trafficking, it is a "shocking" picture of a young girl tied up. It has that dark gritty feeling. I picture her in a basement tied to a dripping pipe.

While that sounds awful, it's important to know that trafficking children in the US is not all of that. I can't say it never is—I don't know. What I do know is most young trafficked children aren't sitting in a basement tied up. They have families, and someone—usually in their family—is trafficking them.

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Most women, at one point or another, have felt some wariness or fear over a strange man in public. Sometimes it's overt, sometimes it's subtle, but when your instincts tell you something isn't right and you're potentially in danger, you listen.

It's an unfortunate reality, but reality nonetheless.

A Twitter thread starting with some advice on helping women out is highlighting how real this is for many of us. User @mxrixm_nk wrote: "If a girl suddenly acts as if she knows you in public and acts like you're friends, go along w[ith] it. She could be in danger."

Other women chimed in with their own personal stories of either being the girl approaching a stranger or being the stranger approached by a girl to fend off a situation with a creepy dude.

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