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