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SOUTH WHITLEY â Graceful. Strong. Warm. Caring. These are words used to describe Emma Hindbaugh, of Columbia City, who passed away Jan. 8 at the age of 6.
Having battled cancer for more than three years, Emma was sick for half of her life, but that did not diminish the impact she had on those she came in contact with.
She attended Faith Christian Academy, Columbia City, where classmates and faculty held fundraisers to offset medical expenses and rallied around Emma to cheer her on in her fight.
âShe was the second student in our school to have cancer,â said FCAâs Administrator Larry Schmoekel. âShe helped us all to realize that cancer happens to kids. She was loved and we all miss her very much.â
Schmoekel said he heard about Emmaâs death during the school day, but opted to not share that information with students, but rather let parents discuss it with their children.
However, the next day, Schmoekel said students responded with an out-pouring of support.
âEmmaâs class told me they were happy she was in heaven and now she would feel better and get to run and play,â Schmoekel said. âA classmate made a card to send to Emmaâs parents that said, âwe prayed for Emma to get better, and boom! God did a miracle and took her where she was all better. God needed her up there.ââ
Fighting for life
It was that support and encouragement that gave Emmaâs parents, Brittany and Corey, what they needed to cope with Emmaâs illness, and in the end, her passing.
âWhen we first learned about Emmaâs illness, all the emotions were just so overwhelming,â Corey said. âThe support of family and friends was so helpful. My work rallied right away to give us a donation and so many people supported fundraisers for Emma.â
Brittany established a CaringBridge website to share Emmaâs progress with those that wanted to stay abreast of her prognosis. The website allows readers to be updated through an online blog.
Part of Emmaâs treatment was conducted at Rileyâs Children Hospital in Indianapolis.
âShe was a trooper and was excellent with the doctors,â said Brittany.
âIt didnât take long for her to realize when the nurses came she was going to get poked,â said Corey. âShe wasnât as excited to see them, but she always listened to what the doctors were saying.â
Brittany and Corey both commended the medical staff at Riley for the support and treatment they received. Even though Emma was receiving medical treatment, her parents refused to let her be treated as anything other than normal.
âYou donât allow her to be different. You wonât her to feel like a normal little girl, â said Brittany. âThere is hope in that. You have to hold on to hope and not settle for anything less than the belief that she is going to get better.â
Dealing with the reality that someone as young as Emma would have to endure chemotherapy and radiation would be enough to challenge any parentâs resolve.
But Corey juggled both emotion and responsibility â wanting desperately to be by his daughterâs side every moment of her fight, but also having to continue to be the familyâs bread winner.
âI was torn. I donât know how I did it. I guess I did it because I didnât have any other choice,â Corey said. âI donât think Brittany and I are anything special. We just did what we had to do to get through.â
While Emma was fighting to survive, Brittany and Corey had two other daughters to raise. Meredith, 2 and Alena, 4, watched as their big sister went for numerous doctors appointments.
When Emmaâs diagnosis was given to Brittany, she had just found out she was pregnant with Meredith.
âI went to a lot of doctorâs appointments with Meredith in a pack-and-play,â Brittany said. âEmma loved having her there. She would get in her bed and snuggle up with Meredith.â
Now that Emma has passed, her sisters are reminded that Emma is no longer sick.
âWe talk about Emma a lot and look at pictures,â said Brittany. âWe remember that Emma is happy and healthy and not sick anymore.â
In April of 2012, Brittany and Corey found out that Emmaâs cancer had returned. After believing the worst was behind them, the family had to dig down deep to find the strength and courage to fight again.
âIt was like a kick in the gutt, â Brittany said.
âI was by myself when I found out Emma was sick again. We had to go through several tests that day. When Emma had fallen asleep, I sat there and cried and cried. But when she woke up, I had to pretend it was all fine and put on that brave face again for her.â
Corey and Brittany knew after the doctorâs evaluations that any treatments would only buy them time with Emma. The summer of 2012 was a chance for the family to enjoy Emma.
âShe had her energy and her personality,â Corey said. âIt was fun to get to know her like that. The girls really enjoyed getting to have their sister.â
As the final months came to a close, Emmaâs family gathered around her to soak up as much of her as possible.
âI spent every moment with her. I held her as much as I could,â Brittany said. âThe day she passed away she wanted me to hold her,â Corey said. âWe just knew it was getting to be that time.â
Even though Emma has passed away, there are still daily reminders of her brief life. Walking into Brittanyâs South Whitley home, a pink Cinderella activity table sits next to the dining set.
âThat was one of Emmaâs Christmas presents,â Corey said.
âI still cry a lot. Itâs still so fresh.â Brittany said. âMy days were all about her and being with her.â
Tears raced down Brittanyâs face as she described life without Emma. Corey, a strong, solid father figure, was over come with emotion as he thought about having a chance to see Emma once more.
âI would just love to give her a hug â a big squeeze,â he said.
âThat last day I spent crying over her, and I kept saying I was sorry,â Brittany said. âYou feel so bad that you canât do anything. As a mother, you donât ever want to see your kids hurting. I just wanted Emma to know that I was sorry and that I loved her. I wish I could touch her and tell her I love her again.â
One of the harsh reminders of Emmaâs passing is the continuation of medical bills.
âThe bills donât stop coming even though sheâs gone,â Corey said. âIt can seem overwhelming. Dealing with the insurance companies is exhausting, but it has to be done.â
The expenses that are not covered by insurance were incidental items Brittany said she did not even think about.
âInsurance doesnât cover meals and gas. That is extra expenses when youâre having to go to Indy,â she said.
But donations came to help cover some expenses, although Corey said taking the money was difficult at first.
âPeople give money when they donât know how else to help. I eventually got over it and accepted it,â said Corey. âI just hope we have the opportunity in the future to return the favor.â
Brittany agreed. âWe could never say thank you enough. I canât even get caught up on thank you cards. There were just so many that helped,â she said. âI hope they all know how much we appreciate each and every one of them that gave.â
Memorializing a life
At Emmaâs funeral, memorials were made to CureSearch for Childrenâs Cancer, an organization that funds and supports childrenâs cancer research and provides information and resources to those affected.
In the end, more than $3,000 was donated in Emmaâs memory.
âThat means so much. What they do is so important,â Brittany said. âI donât think most people know that when a child has cancer, there is no specific drug for kids. They get the exact same medicine at the same strength as an adult.â
Finding a treatment specific for children is part of CureSearchâs mission.
Another way the family has chosen to honor Emmaâs memory is by planning a memorial garden at Coreyâs home.
Emmaâs life was cut short by cancer, but her family wants to hold on to the memories of what time they did have with her.
âShe was special and warm. People loved her and she loved them. She was graceful and had so much to give,â Brittany said. âWe want to remember her that way.â