How The Life And Death Of An 11-Year-Old Girl I Never Met Changed Me

It turned out to be a story I won't forget.

When I wrote a story about Chloe Williams' fight with brain cancer last September, I chose what seemed like an appropriately viral subhead: "A story you won't forget." 

I had no idea at the time how true that statement would end up being.

The story was about Mark Williams — whose daughter Chloe was diagnosed with a rare kind of brain cancer on Christmas Eve when she 4 years old — told Dr. Alex Levy, a pediatric cancer specialist at Arnold Palmer Hospital and Chloe's doctor, that he wanted him to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.


The story ended on an optimistic note. That August, the Williams family had reported on their Facebook page that Chloe's most recent MRI had shown that all of her tumors had responded to radiation therapy. Their tone was jubilant, hopeful. "EVERYTHING SHRUNK!!!!! Dozens of tumors have shrunk!" 

I hoped. I believed.

We ran the story on September 4, 2015. It did very well and was shared by new dad Ashton Kutcherwhose daughter Wyatt was then 11 months old — on his Facebook page a week later.

All seemed well. Then I got a message on June 27 of this year.

The message was from my girlfriend's mother, who has sent me more stories that I've covered than I can even begin to count. It was an update from Chloe's Cause that had been posted to Facebook. It was bad news.

My reaction was pure helplessness: grief and powerless rage.

As you may know, I don't take it very well when children have cancer. I take some of these stories a little bit too personally. 

I realize that rage is a completely irrational reaction to one of the harsh realities of the world: that children sometimes die and, no it is not fair, but there's very little you can do about it.

I don't accept the second part of that at all. 

I decided to try and do something for the family. So I reached out to a few people who I thought might be able to help the family out. 

I hoped. I believed.

They did. From friends who immediately shared the link to the Williams' GoFundMe, to friends who donated money, and without asking a single question, they did.

By the next day, my friend and talented comic Sean Lynch had a fundraiser organized, enlisting the aid of some of his friends in comedy who were offering their talents for free at New York City's Broadway Comedy Club, whose owner, Al Martin, donated use of the venue.

You may have noticed something else on the night of June 27 — someone that we didn't give any publicity to, and who acted completely selflessly and on their own accord because they were in the right place and the right time to do something that might help the family out by bringing awareness to their daughter's fight.

This guy.

Facebook/Chloe's Cause

The likes on Chloe's Cause Facebook page went up. Donations to the family's GoFundMe increased.

The family was incredibly kind, especially given the fact that I hadn't bothered to contact them before launching my crusade.

I watched the updates on Facebook. I read the emails from GoFundMe. I watched as Sean added more and more comics to the roster. I got messages from a friend of the family who kept me in the loop, let me know how Chloe was doing. I shared the posts over and over again.

I hoped. I believed.

And then on the night of July 14, Chloe Williams, age 11, died of brain cancer after fighting it for seven and a half years.

I hoped. I believed.

Chloe's story — her life, the grace and humor with which I am told she lived — is indeed something that I won't forget. It changed the way that I see the world. I used to spend my time immersed in the endless stream of media-reported death and destruction. Now I scarcely look at the news. 

Now I search out beauty. I look for kindness. I do my best to remember that we're all here for a very short time, and that the best thing we can do is try to take care of people when we can. I am fortunate to be in a position to have some influence that way, and blessed to have colleagues and friends who are similarly situated.

Tonight, in New York City, I — along with Sean Lynch and his cohort of very kind comedians — will celebrate Chloe Williams' life at Broadway Comedy Club. Tickets are $20. The majority of proceeds will go to her family. A Plus will be broadcasting some interviews and thoughts before the show on Facebook Live. If you can join us in NYC, please come by and say hi. If you cannot, but would like to donate, you may do so here.

When I got news of her passing, I wasn't hit with any sense of helplessness or powerless rage. Just grief — yes, grief — for a child I didn't raise, a child I didn't know. The grief that comes with the realization that every child belongs to whoever loves them, belongs to the world, belongs to life and death, belongs to humanity. You have power. You can help. Love matters. Standing up for love matters.

I hope. I believe.


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