In 2014, photographers Lora Scantling and Christy Goodger sent out an open call on Facebook that would change their lives forever.
“My stepdad was battling lung cancer at the time and I wanted to do something that had an impact,” Scantling told ABC. “I thought, ‘Oh how sweet would it be and I put a post on Facebook asking if anyone knew of little kids battling cancer.'”
In the years since, she’s photographed dozens of childhood cancer survivors for a project she calls “Little Heroes.” But three special little girls from Oklahoma stood out from the rest. Their photograph, featuring all three bald, dressed like angels, and hugging each other close, went viral shortly after it was taken.
“They walked in and the second they saw each other they were like, ‘Hey, you don’t have any hair either. You’re going through what I’m going through,'” Scantling recalled. “Everyone was quiet at first, but after a few minutes they were sharing stories from the hospital.”
Six-year-old Rheann Franklin, center, was battling a rare brain tumor. Five-year-old Ainsley Peters, on the right, was facing leukemia. And Rylie Hughey, on the left, was only three, but living with kidney cancer.
Then, less than a year after the original photo was taken, the girls reunited for another photo shoot. It marked a major milestone for all three girls — they were in remission.
“It was just like a bunch of friends getting together,” Scantling remembered. “They were bouncing off the walls, having fun, like, ‘Oh my best friends are here.'”
Then she decided to make it an annual tradition. Scantling says she plans to keep photographing Rheann, Ainsley, and Rylie throughout their lives, and hopes they will continue to inspire people around the world.
“If I had to sum up Lora’s photos in one word, it would be ‘hope,'” said Rylie’s mother. “Strength comes in numbers, and I hope that another family in the middle of a battle with cancer can look at the photo and be inspired.”
For this year’s photo, the girls were joined by a special guest — three-year-old Connor Lloyd.
Scantling is Lloyd’s family photographer, and when she heard the young boy had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, she invited him to pose with the girls.
“Sometimes you never know how much time you have,” she explained to his mother. She adds that Connor is responding well to treatment, so we should all expect to see him in the next photo as well.
“Connor will be in treatment for another three years, and yet he’s always so happy and brave. Just like the girls, he’s an inspiration,” she said. “I’ll keep taking this photo every year for as long as they want me to. They’re inspiring to all of us.”