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SOUTH WHITLEY ‚ÄĒ 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.
‚ÄúShe was the second student in our school to have cancer,‚ÄĚ said FCA‚Äôs Administrator Larry Schmoekel. ‚ÄúShe helped us all to realize that cancer happens to kids. She was loved and we all miss her very much.‚ÄĚ
Schmoekel said he heard about Emma‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúEmma‚Äôs class told me they were happy she was in heaven and now she would feel better and get to run and play,‚ÄĚ Schmoekel said. ‚ÄúA classmate made a card to send to Emma‚Äôs parents that said, ‚Äėwe 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.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Fighting for life
It was that support and encouragement that gave Emma‚Äôs parents, Brittany and Corey, what they needed to cope with Emma‚Äôs illness, and in the end, her passing.
‚ÄúWhen we first learned about Emma‚Äôs illness, all the emotions were just so overwhelming,‚ÄĚ Corey said. ‚ÄúThe 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.‚ÄĚ
Brittany established a CaringBridge website to share Emma‚Äôs progress with those that wanted to stay abreast of her prognosis. The website allows readers to be updated through an online blog.
Part of Emma‚Äôs treatment was conducted at Riley‚Äôs Children Hospital in Indianapolis.
‚ÄúShe was a trooper and was excellent with the doctors,‚ÄĚ said Brittany.
‚ÄúIt didn‚Äôt take long for her to realize when the nurses came she was going to get poked,‚ÄĚ said Corey. ‚ÄúShe wasn‚Äôt as excited to see them, but she always listened to what the doctors were saying.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúYou don‚Äôt allow her to be different. You won‚Äôt her to feel like a normal little girl, ‚Äú said Brittany. ‚ÄúThere 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.‚ÄĚ
Dealing with the reality that someone as young as Emma would have to endure chemotherapy and radiation would be enough to challenge any parent‚Äôs resolve.
But Corey juggled both emotion and responsibility ‚ÄĒ wanting desperately to be by his daughter‚Äôs side every moment of her fight, but also having to continue to be the family‚Äôs bread winner.
‚ÄúI was torn. I don‚Äôt know how I did it. I guess I did it because I didn‚Äôt have any other choice,‚ÄĚ Corey said. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think Brittany and I are anything special. We just did what we had to do to get through.‚ÄĚ
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 Emma‚Äôs diagnosis was given to Brittany, she had just found out she was pregnant with Meredith.
‚ÄúI went to a lot of doctor‚Äôs appointments with Meredith in a pack-and-play,‚ÄĚ Brittany said. ‚ÄúEmma loved having her there. She would get in her bed and snuggle up with Meredith.‚ÄĚ
Now that Emma has passed, her sisters are reminded that Emma is no longer sick.
‚ÄúWe talk about Emma a lot and look at pictures,‚ÄĚ said Brittany. ‚ÄúWe remember that Emma is happy and healthy and not sick anymore.‚ÄĚ
In April of 2012, Brittany and Corey found out that Emma‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúIt was like a kick in the gutt, ‚Äú Brittany said.
‚ÄúI 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.‚ÄĚ
Corey and Brittany knew after the doctor‚Äôs evaluations that any treatments would only buy them time with Emma. The summer of 2012 was a chance for the family to enjoy Emma.
‚ÄúShe had her energy and her personality,‚ÄĚ Corey said. ‚ÄúIt was fun to get to know her like that. The girls really enjoyed getting to have their sister.‚ÄĚ
As the final months came to a close, Emma‚Äôs family gathered around her to soak up as much of her as possible.
‚ÄúI spent every moment with her. I held her as much as I could,‚ÄĚ Brittany said. ‚ÄúThe day she passed away she wanted me to hold her,‚ÄĚ Corey said. ‚ÄúWe just knew it was getting to be that time.‚ÄĚ
Even though Emma has passed away, there are still daily reminders of her brief life. Walking into Brittany‚Äôs South Whitley home, a pink Cinderella activity table sits next to the dining set.
‚ÄúThat was one of Emma‚Äôs Christmas presents,‚ÄĚ Corey said.
‚ÄúI still cry a lot. It‚Äôs still so fresh.‚ÄĚ Brittany said. ‚ÄúMy days were all about her and being with her.‚ÄĚ
Tears raced down Brittany‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúI would just love to give her a hug ‚ÄĒ a big squeeze,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúThat last day I spent crying over her, and I kept saying I was sorry,‚ÄĚ Brittany said. ‚ÄúYou feel so bad that you can‚Äôt do anything. As a mother, you don‚Äôt 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.‚ÄĚ
One of the harsh reminders of Emma‚Äôs passing is the continuation of medical bills.
‚ÄúThe bills don‚Äôt stop coming even though she‚Äôs gone,‚ÄĚ Corey said. ‚ÄúIt can seem overwhelming. Dealing with the insurance companies is exhausting, but it has to be done.‚ÄĚ
The expenses that are not covered by insurance were incidental items Brittany said she did not even think about.
‚ÄúInsurance doesn‚Äôt cover meals and gas. That is extra expenses when you‚Äôre having to go to Indy,‚ÄĚ she said.
But donations came to help cover some expenses, although Corey said taking the money was difficult at first.
‚ÄúPeople give money when they don‚Äôt know how else to help. I eventually got over it and accepted it,‚ÄĚ said Corey. ‚ÄúI just hope we have the opportunity in the future to return the favor.‚ÄĚ
Brittany agreed. ‚ÄúWe could never say thank you enough. I can‚Äôt even get caught up on thank you cards. There were just so many that helped,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúI hope they all know how much we appreciate each and every one of them that gave.‚ÄĚ
Memorializing a life
At Emma‚Äôs funeral, memorials were made to CureSearch for Children‚Äôs Cancer, an organization that funds and supports children‚Äôs cancer research and provides information and resources to those affected.
In the end, more than $3,000 was donated in Emma‚Äôs memory.
‚ÄúThat means so much. What they do is so important,‚ÄĚ Brittany said. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt 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.‚ÄĚ
Finding a treatment specific for children is part of CureSearch‚Äôs mission.
Another way the family has chosen to honor Emma‚Äôs memory is by planning a memorial garden at Corey‚Äôs home.
Emma‚Äôs life was cut short by cancer, but her family wants to hold on to the memories of what time they did have with her.
‚ÄúShe was special and warm. People loved her and she loved them. She was graceful and had so much to give,‚ÄĚ Brittany said. ‚ÄúWe want to remember her that way.‚ÄĚ