Months after her daughter’s death, this mom is coping with grief by spreading happiness.
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Northwestern Mutual

“Brooke was, from 3 months, like the happiest kid I had ever seen in my life,” says Brooke's mom, Amy.

“She had colic the first three months, so I can’t include that time,” she laughs. “But, from that point on, she was so easy, so good. Just happy, happy all the time.”

All images via Amy Stanton Mulford, used with permission.


"She liked everything," says Amy. "She loved trying new things. She loved traveling to new places. We tried to make everything we did an adventure."

Brooke's cheerfulness was remarkable, Amy continues. “She could run into a doorknob with her head and fall back and start laughing. Nothing fazed her at all."

“And none of that changed when she was diagnosed with cancer.”

At age 4, Brooke was diagnosed with an aggressive neuroblastoma — a cancer of the nervous system that started on her adrenal gland and spread throughout her bones. It would make her life exceedingly difficult for the next eight and a half years.

In the spring of 2017, Brooke passed away. But she left behind a legacy of kindness with all the people she touched.

Brooke's uncanny empathy for others lives on in a charity she started to help other kids suffering from cancer.

Brooke and Amy were inspired by their first experience in the emergency room at their local hospital.

"Here I am in the ER with her for I think it was probably like eight hours that day with a 4-year-old who's not feeling well and having absolutely nothing to do," says Amy.

Once she was formally diagnosed, toys and games began flooding in from family and friends — more than they knew what to do with. But Brooke never forgot about the other kids in that hospital without toys of their own.

"We got to thinking — they have so many people donating stuff at the children's hospital. We should do something like this here," Amy says, referring to their local hospital, whose ER didn't have toys or anything to occupy a child.

And just like that, Brooke's Toy Closet was born, with the first donations coming from Brooke herself.

Today, Peninsula Regional still gets donations for the Toy Closet from community members and from The Brooke Mulford Foundation. Through her Toy Closet, Brooke continues to have an uplifting impact on hospitalized children.

With her cancer, Brooke and her mom had plenty to worry about on their own. But they wanted to help others too.

When she created the Toy Closet, Brooke wasn't thinking of herself because that was just her way: When she was in pain, she thought of others who might be too.

"These kids that get stuff from the Toy Closet — hopefully that's the only time they're going to be in the hospital. But it's still not an easy thing. It can be a scary place," says Amy.

"Brooke definitely felt for any kid who had to be in that position because she had to be doing it so often."

Now, Amy copes with her grief by continuing to do the work that Brooke did during her life.

Until the last, Brooke and Amy maintained hope that scientists would find a cure for her cancer. Now, Amy continues to work with the Brooke Mulford Foundation, which was formed to raise funds for neuroblastoma research, in hopes of finding a cure for other families with that same hope. She also works with other organizations dedicated to prevention, research, and finding cures for different pediatric cancers.

Because, for Amy, it's all about paying it forward.

"I hope that's my purpose," she says, "to continue to do these things, to hopefully fulfill what I was put here to do."

Northwestern Mutual worked directly with Brooke and her mom as a sponsor for ALSF and Wonder Capes in hopes of raising funds and awareness for pediatric cancer research and, now, to honor her memory.

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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