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Mary had a little lamb

Updated: Apr 24, 2019




It all began in March. I sent out a half kidding/half serious social media ask about “Mary wanting a little lamb”... I was seeking out a lamb for some potential spring mini sessions. My March bookings were looking a little slow so I thought, why not throw in a few little mini sessions with a lamb for spring?! My hubby Chris said “Mary, who in the world is going to want pictures with a lamb?”. I answered, “me!”. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who thought photos with a lamb would be an epic adventure. The sessions were jammed packed. It was a lot of work, made for a very smelly house and was a good learning opportunity re: bottle-fed lamb vs a farm lamb. But the giggles and laughs that it brought to our family and to my clients made it totally worth it.


After they were all wrapped up and I was having a blast sharing the photo sessions on social media, I received a message from our dear friend, Emma. Emma was our 15 year old cancer friend who was undergoing a very tough fight against osteosarcoma (the same bone cancer Terry fox had). She wrote me to say that she had never met a baby lamb before and would love to cuddle one!

A little about our Emma: Emma was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma at the age of 13. This aggressive bone cancer was in her right femur and her lungs. Emma's leg was amputated and she underwent rotationplasty (her remaining foot was rotated, reattached, and fitted for a prosthetic leg). It wasn't long after she had finished her chemo treatment and was fitted with her prosthetic that Emma was back on the gymnastics floor doing jaw dropping handstands, flips and various other acrobatics. She was fierce and determined and when she wanted something, she was known to stop at nothing to make it happen.

But sadly for Emma, her Cancer returned. she had a reoccurrence of cancer in her lungs. In August, Emma found out that she did not qualify for the trial drugs. She was running out of options. So, Emma directed her focus on what she could control. Living in the moment, advocating for better treatment and helping other kids who were battling cancer; like our daughter Eliza. In late August, Emma decided that she was going to become a sponsor for a wonderful foundation that built playgrounds for kids with critical illnesses. She decided that she wanted to direct her efforts towards our Eliza. We were humbled. Honoured. The fact that a 15 year old young woman, who was battling a terrible and aggressive cancer wanted to help out others and make them smile, blew us away. When she came with a drill in hand, walking on her prosthetic leg, smiling ear to ear, and showing off her amazing flips in our family pool, our jaws hit the floor. We all just kept saying, "she is so cool". There was truly no better young lady for our daughter Eliza to look up to.

So, of course when Emma wrote me about wanting to meet a baby lamb, we were on a mission to make it happen! So we had set up a date and waited for our darling Emma to come! But she never made it down. Sadly, the cancer was spreading and Emma was no longer able to travel. The cancer had spread to her hips making it impossible for her to sit through a car ride- or even sit at all. So we set up plan B; bring the lamb to Emma! We were all set to leave on a Friday afternoon when I received a call from her mom. Emma was in the hospital. Her pain from the cancer was becoming too unbearable. They were attempting a procedure to reduce some of the pain the very next day. Our hearts burned for her family. We promised to come visit with the lamb as soon as she broke free from the hospital.

We were starting to realize that time, was not on Emma's side. Her cancer was becoming more and more aggressive. Emma was not going to be on this Earth for very much longer.

On Saturday, I received a text message from Emma's mom. She told me that Emma was not going to be with them much longer but she still wanted to see the lamb and asked if I would be willing to bring it to SickKids Hospital. Emma's exact words; "I want to see the darn Lamb". We got on the phone immediately, seeking out the bottle fed lambs we were going to bring to her earlier. No answer. I tried another potential. No answer. So then we took a leap of faith, there was a local family who had spent time in SickKids with their son who had a rare disease and they just so happened to have "meat lambs". I called our nurses and told them to give her my number ASAP. She called back almost immediately, I shared Emma's request and before I knew it we had a lamb in a dog crate, with a doggy diaper on, a baby bottle and we were on our way to SickKids hospital. I can't tell you how we snuck that lamb into the hospital but it happened thanks to some very incredible humans. My heart ached. How could this be? How could our fierce Emma not be with us much longer? How could our country's treatment plan at this day and age be failing her? I knew that Emma hated the idea, of being seen as "the girl who was sick with cancer". I never saw her that way. I felt terrible that she was so sick, that she was dying and I wasn't sure what to expect.

When I first walked in, all was quiet, just the sound of a ventilation machine and the sound of the IV pump. Her eyes were closed. I grabbed her hand. She asked who it was. I said quietly, "it's your friend Mary". Then I stopped myself. Why was I whispering? I was bringing her something she had been looking forward to for over a month. I said it again, but this time with excitement "Its MARY! Mary had a little LAMB!!!". Her eyes opened and she lifted my hand in hers and said "AHHHHHHH, THE LAMB", with the biggest smile and with so much excitement. There was our Emma. Even in her darkest moments, full of cancer, full of pain, knowing she didn't have much longer. She puckered her lips, grabbed the lambs in her hands and kissed it. She snuggled it, she laughed, she yelled at it to "bah", she told us an epic joke, she lifted her arms over her head, she danced in her bed as we sang "Emma had a little lamb".



By the time we arrived back home, Emma had passed away. She filled her cup one last time, with one last epic story and the moment that she shared with so many in her room that night, and then was ready to fly home. I know that her spirit would have flipped off of the bed, of that I am sure. I have never in my lifetime and likely never will again, see so much strength. We walked out of the room, and said to each other "She WON". She won at this game called life. The girl who awed us with flips on a prosthetic was now in a hospital bed, showing us how to truly live in the moment, how to fill our cups, how to seek out the good and how to roar back at her fate against cancer. What started out as a silly little instagram request about "Mary wanting a little lamb". Turned into the most incredibly humbling moment of my life.

Emma had a little lamb, It's fleece was white as snow;

And everywhere that Emma went

The lamb was sure to go.

She followed her to the hospital one day

Which was against the rule;

It made the nurses laugh and play,

To see a lamb at work.

And so the security turned her out,

But still she lingered near;

And waited patiently about

Till Emma did appear

"What makes the lamb love Emma so?"

The eager children cry;

"Why, Emma loves the lamb, you know,"

Her mother did reply.

I hope you have a 100 baby lambs chasing at your feet Emma. Love you forever. Your friend, Mary





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Peterborough, Ontario

© 2020 by Mary Zita Payne