A brave girl who overcame childhood leukemia four years ago is now helping her best friend through the same devastating illness.
Childhood leukemia is classified as a rare disease by The American Cancer Society, so the likelihood of two friends sharing the experience is exceptionally slim.
Emma Bergeron, eleven, was frightened when her pal Johnny Sorial, eleven, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the same cancer she battled from age four.
Although Emma has been cancer-free since her last treatment in 2014, the fifth grader said she was “nervous” when her friend received the same diagnosis in September 2016.
Johnny, of Chicago, Illinois, said his neighbor Emma has inspired him through his grueling chemotherapy regime, during which he developed severe anxiety.
Johnny, who is in the sixth grade, says Emma is a constant reminder that he will get better and helps him remain positive even through the hardest points of his illness.
Johnny said: “In the months before I was diagnosed I felt so tired and my feet really hurt.
“I was never hungry.
“When the doctors told me I had leukemia, my immune system was so down and I was so tired, I didn’t even register it at the beginning. I didn’t even hear them.
“All I heard them say was it’s a blood disease.
“At the beginning I was brushing it off. I didn’t feel like I had cancer until the very first treatment.
“At the start I really had bad anxiety especially during chemo when the doctors and nurses had to access my port. Therapy really helped me to cope with that.
“Knowing Emma had been through it made me feel better because she’s recovered now and like a normal kid again.
“I looked up to her because it made me remember I will be better someday soon too.
“The best thing about Emma is that she’s so positive.
“When she visits me, even when I’m in hospital, it feels like just one of my friends coming over to visit.”
Emma added: “I was a little nervous when Johnny was diagnosed but I knew that he could do it.
“It feels good inside to be there for him because not many people experience it. If you don’t experience it you don’t get it.
“You don’t understand.”
Johnny currently receives chemotherapy through a spinal tap every three months and takes daily chemotherapy medication to battle the illness.
The sixth grader is looking forward to his last course of treatment in November 2019, but said Emma’s positivity and playfulness has helped him through.
Johnny said: “We laugh a lot and we do a lot of things together, like work on Lego sets. We love to draw and do origami.
“We play this game Emma made up all the time called Hello Neighbor.
“We’re even going on a skiing trip this weekend which I’m so excited about.”
Emma added: “Johnny is such a great friend. I can’t wait until he is better.”
The kids recently set up a ‘Lemonade for Leukemia’ stand which raised more than $6000 for Lurie Children’s Hospital, where Emma received treatment.
The juice stand also raised $6,000 for Advocate Children’s Hospital, where Johnny is overcoming the illness.
Mom-of four Susan, 43, and her husband George Sorial, a collateral manager, said they were lucky to have the support of Emma’s mom and dad Renee and Keith Bergeron through their son’s illness.
Susan, a stay-at-home mom, said: “Their support has been so wonderful and Johnny is lucky to have a friend like Emma to help him through this.
“Now that 2019 is here, his last treatment in November feels so much closer.”
Mom-of-two Renee, 42, and Keith, 45, a financial adviser, said the children’s friendship was admirable, even before Johnny’s diagnosis.
Renee said: “Johnny and Emma’s friendship is amazing. Their personalities are very similar. They’re two peas in a pod and very independent thinkers.
“When we heard Johnny was sick, it was devastating.
“You wouldn’t wish this illness on anyone.
“Even though we weren’t that close as families at the time, Susan reached out to me and even though it was hard, it felt good to be that support to her, because when Emma was sick we just didn’t have that.”
“We’re all looking forward to the day when Johnny has his last treatment and everything will go back to normal.”