OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Leverage, angles and timing are all components of Jui-jitsu that Izzy Brothers and her sister, Laylah are learning. These girls, ages six and eight, already know a lot about bonding.
A few months ago, Laylah convinced her mother to allow her to get a buzz cut. She wanted her hair to match Izzy, who lost her hair due to chemotherapy treatments.
“So, I didn’t want her to go through it alone. I helped her to try to make her feel happy,” explained Laylah Helsel.
The girls’ mother, Kathleen Helsel, tears up remembering how she joined her daughters and cropped her own hair close to the scalp.
“I can’t look at my brave daughters, and them rocking their hair cuts and not join them,” says Kathleen. “It’s hard to tell them hair is not a big deal, but mine is! It felt better to be unified.”
This close-knit family was shaken physically and emotionally last April when Kathleen got a call from the nurse at Izzy’s Oklahoma City school.
“She informed me she had a very large lymph node underneath her chin. And usually they’re on the sides and that will indicate something is going on with the throat—and she said it was directly in the center, and it was very large,” recalls Kathleen.
Izzy’s exhaustion was another clue that eventually led to a blood test in the emergency room. The diagnosis was acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Kathleen recalls, “They told me due to her hemoglobin being so low – it was 2.7 – she was at risk of going into cardiac arrest and we needed to call her an ambulance and go to Childrens, and we did.”
The next few months were a blur of treatment, hospital stays and an occasional, joyful visit from therapy dogs.
“DOGGIES!” exclaims Izzy when asked about that part of her hospital stays. “They lay on the bed with me.”
Izzy’s mom credits the team at Jimmy Everest Cancer Center for easing them through the toughest moments.
“One of the hardest things for Izzy at first was getting her blood drawn, It was an obstacle, it was emotional. It took us all coming together to help her cope to ensure we could get it done.”
The art Izzy made in the clinic now hangs in the family’s hallways. Izzy is home again, and although she has two years of maintenance chemotherapy treatments ahead, she is already feeling stronger and looking forward to time spent in the martial arts gym.
Her mom reflects, “She’s a tough kid. And even on days when I know she’s not feeling her best, she still wants to participate, even if it’s not 100 percent. She gives her all every single time no matter how crappy she feels.”
If you’d like to help kids like Izzy fight cancer, consider donating to JECFriends.org.