On Oct. 29, Ashley Jewett and her family received confirmation from Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Arizona that her daughter, Madi, had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer. At 5 years old, Madi is among the 20 percent of children with leukemia who have been diagnosed with AML specifically, which is known to metastasize quickly and require rigorous and equally aggressive treatment.
Two weeks into treatment, Madi began experiencing hair loss. As she shed her locks, she became more aware of how different she looked from those she knew and loved, her mother told HuffPost. After the decision was made to cut her hair completely, Madi asked that her mother, father and other people who had been supporting her do so in one particular way: by joining her in shaving their heads to match her new style. They happily agreed.
“I wanted her to know it wasn’t just her going through this by herself,” Ashley explained to HuffPost. “And I wanted her to inspire other people going through this.”
Madi’s mother and her father, Chris, her grandfather and little brother shaved their heads in solidarity as well. The results were captured in a photo series by photographer Alicia Atkins that has gone viral on Facebook
Madi’s illness has been a test for Ashley, who finds herself coping with an aspect of parenthood she never expected.
“I could be mad. I could be angry — and I have those emotions, too — but to be there for her and show her strength, that’s why we did it,” she said. “And she feels so much better looking at me and seeing me look the same as her. That makes me feel like I can do something for her.”
There has been an outpouring of support since the photo series was posted online. The original post, published by photographer, has been shared almost 12,000 times, and its comments number in the thousands.
Atkins, who has photographed similar situations in the past, said the beauty in shoots like Madi’s is made possible by its willingly vulnerable subjects.
“This isn’t my story,” she said. “This is their life, and all I can do is stand there and capture the moments that are happening in front of me.”
Despite Madi’s initial nervousness about shaving her head and conducting the shoot, Atkins said the 5-year-old could sense the support she received.
“She was never alone,” she said.
Ashley insists that tradition of support will continue for many years.
“I know she’s going to get through this,” she said. “And I know when she gets older, we’re going to look back at the whole process and see that her family was there for her and supporting her every step of the way.”
A GoFundMe campaign has been launched on Madi’s behalf. View it here.