Five Year Old Cancer Patient Leaves Hundreds of Notes for Her Family

Filed under: In The News, Amazing Kids

Elena DesserichWhen five-year-old Elena Desserich was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, she set out to help her family deal with her death in a truly remarkable way. The kindergartener started writing -- she created "The Kindergarten Survival Guide" for younger sister Grace -- and drawing.

When Elena's cancer robbed her of the ability to speak, she used drawing and painting to communicate with her family. One of her paintings, titled "I Love You," was hung in the Cincinnati Art Museum, next to a painting by Pablo Picasso, one of Elena's favorite artists.

But she also wrote hundreds of notes for her family and hid them in various places around their home in Wyoming; her parents didn't know about the notes until after Elena died. "We were moving some boxes around one day and in between some of the books a note fell out," recalls mom Brooke Desserich. "Each time I would read one of those notes, it was like a little hug from her."

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It's no surprise that Elena turned to writing to stay connected to her family. In the nine months between Elena's diagnosis and her death in August of 2007, her parents were also using writing to cope. The couple kept an online journal, chronicling their daughter's illness and their own struggles to come to terms with the inevitable. To their surprise, thousands of people read the journal and reached out to the Desserichs. "Everybody was reading the journal and going, 'This taught me to be a better parent. It taught me to spend time with my children, it taught me to value being a mom and dad,'" marveled Elena's dad, Keith Desserich.

Keith and Brooke Desserich have turned their journal and Elena's notes into a book, "Notes Left Behind." They have also started a foundation called The Cure Starts Now to raise money for pediatric brain cancer. My heart goes out to them -- I also have a kindergartener who likes to draw and leave little notes around for me to find -- but I have to admire the way they were able to teach Elena to see her life as joyful, and not as a tragedy. They really are inspiring parents.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.