Friendship Bracelets

The Power of Friendship

A rainbow-hued friendship bracelet became a symbol of courage and support for childhood cancer in one community, inspired by the imaginations of 11 middle-school friends.

Classmates Rachel, Rebecca, Julia, Isabella, Laura, Madison, Rebecca, Michael, Kayla, Ada and Maria were devastated by the news that their friend, Mary Katherine Hall, had cancer. They wanted to help somehow, as did Mary Katherine’s brother, Andrew. But how?

A Friend in Need

In January, Mary Katherine was diagnosed with the bone cancer osteosarcoma in her left femur. Soon after, she underwent surgery at Cleveland Clinic Children's to remove the cancer from the bone.

“When we told her school that Mary Katherine had cancer, they sent an email about her illness to the entire school,” says Maureen Hall, Mary Katherine’s mother. “Two days later, her friends were at our house offering support.”

After surgery, Mary Katherine required chemotherapy, which she didn’t tolerate well. The result: long hospital stays. Her friends kept in touch through texts, emails and face-time (done through iPhones and iPads).

But they wanted to do more.

A New Interest Inspires an Idea

“Mary Katherine used to prefer sports to arts and crafts,” Mrs. Hall says of her 11-year-old daughter. “But when she was in Children’s, she really looked forward to the visits from Meredith [McCulloch] because she wasn’t getting poked with needles.”

Daily visits from Ms. McCulloch, Children's art therapist, helped pass the time, as well as provide an emotional outlet for Mary Katherine.

“As an art therapist, I try to establish a relationship with patients to make them feel safe and comfortable to express what they’re feeling, through discussion and making art,” Ms. McCulloch says. “This makes our sessions more than just ‘something to do,’ it's a way for patients to cope with the challenges associated with illness and hospitalization.”

When Mary Katherine told her friends how much she enjoyed art therapy, they decided to raise funds to purchase arts-and-crafts supplies for the program, which also would raise awareness of childhood cancers. Calling themselves the Rainbow Connection, her friends wove hundreds of multicolored friendship bracelets on rainbow looms.

The group then asked permission to set up tables at PTA-sponsored craft fairs. They made signs about their fundraising cause and gave bracelets to anyone who made a donation. The community rallied, and within a few weeks, they had raised $1,000, as well as $400 worth of supplies, to support Children’s art therapy program.

A Welcome Gift

The art therapy program is funded through Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute, which relies on contributions like these to keep the program running.

“Our budget for materials can be tight, and with all of my creative and enthusiastic patients, I go through supplies quickly,” Ms. McCulloch says. “Many of my patients have compromised immune systems and can only work with new art materials, so this donation is a tremendous help.”

And it also was a complete surprise. “Mary Katherine's mother and grandparents asked my colleagues what type of supplies I needed,” Ms. McCulloch says. “It's just very special to receive this gift.”

Says Mrs. Hall: “The girls did this all on their own. Mary Katherine and I had talked about ways we could help the next young patient with cancer, but this idea was all theirs.”

Having her friends around during her cancer treatments — and having them rally around this cause — meant the world to Mary Katherine. “No kid wants to talk about cancer – it’s so scary and terrifying,” Mrs. Hall says. “They want to talk about school and boys. Yet, here they are.”

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