If you think of the word “tough” and the first thing that comes to mind is a hockey player, we found someone that might change your mind.
Meet Holley Brooks.
She’s only 14 years old, but she’s been to St. Louis Children’s Hospital more times than she can count. At three, she was diagnosed with cancer and beat it. When she was 13, she began her second cancer battle, and before she could beat that, she was diagnosed with yet another form of cancer.
So on Monday afternoon, when she finished her last round of chemotherapy, it was worthy of a big celebration.
“She’s pretty tough, pretty strong,” said her mother, Kelly, who was surrounded by friends and family wearing “Hope for Holley” T-shirts.
We met Holley because Blues forwards Alexander Steen and Ryan Reaves visited St. Louis Children’s Hospital after practice Monday for a Flashes of Hope photo shoot. Flashes of Hope is a national nonprofit organization that brings professional photographers and make-up artists to children’s hospitals around the country to provide free uplifting portraits of children battling cancer. The photographs are intended to help the children feel better about their changing appearances.
“We got asked awhile ago to come out. It’s something I’ve done before and enjoy very much,” Steen said in between photos with children. “We’ve had a lot of fun with the kids so far today.”
To celebrate Holley’s last chemotherapy treatment, which finished while she was posing for photos, Steen gave her his No. 20 jersey and signed it.
Holley is just one story. Ethan Saake is another. He was recently diagnosed with leukemia and has spent several weeks in the hospital. A hockey player himself for Fort Zumwalt North and the St. Peters Spirit, Saake was thrilled to sit down with Steen and Reaves, if only for 15 minutes.
“It’s just crazy to get to meet them,” Saake said. “You can’t really find the words to say, you get a little (messed) up. It’s a great experience, nonetheless. They were real nice.”
Each family photographed by Flashes of Hope receives a free photo package, which includes two 8x10 portraits, several 4x6 photos and a CD with more pictures. Often times, children are photographed with their families and biggest supporters. Monday, it was Steen and Reaves.
“We’ve seen a lot of smiles, a lot of bubbles flying through the air. It’s good to see kids that are hurting (get to) be kids and smile,” Reaves said. “We’ve seen some families that have had some tough days, and a couple that have had a tough day today, so just to get a little distraction and see the kids smile, it’s all worth it.”
Amanda Elliott, wife of Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, volunteers as the chapter director for Flashes of Hope and helps set up photo sessions with Blues players throughout the season. Although the photos are for the kids and their families, Amanda said Blues players get a lot out of it, too.
“Even though (these kids) are going through something really hard and challenging that we can’t even understand, they’re still just kids and are very present in the moment. Seeing their dignity and grace with how they’re handling everything, it’s really inspirational.
“Brian has done this a couple of times, and we’ve learned so much from the kids. They’re having fun, they’re here at the shoot and they’re treated like a (normal) kid. It’s a great experience and we have a great time. We love doing it.”