Every once in awhile, you have the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself. When that moment comes along, jump on board and give it your all. It’s the best feeling in the world. I recently had such an opportunity – a chance to give back to a cause close to my heart. I knew the experience would be meaningful. But I had no idea it would be so magical.
About a year ago, I was contacted by a friend at Geisinger, a world-renown healthcare system based near my hometown in Northeastern Pennsylvania. They were preparing for an exciting upcoming milestone – the 25th Anniversary of their Janet Weis Children’s Hospital. To mark the momentous occasion, the team wanted to create a special children’s book that would honor the hospital, celebrate its community and inspire its patients. They planned to give the book to every child admitted to the hospital during its anniversary year, providing a bit of comfort during a sometimes-scary time. They asked if I would write the story and help with the publishing process.
To say I was honored is an understatement! I agreed instantly. Then, upon hanging up, it hit me.
We had to write, illustrate and self-publish a children’s book – an important children’s book – in less than a year. Adding to the pressure, the book would be debuted in front of 500 guests at a black tie gala honoring the hospital’s anniversary. Cue nerves!
A few weeks later, I drove to the hospital for our first brainstorming session. As soon as I stepped inside the lobby, I knew I had entered a special place. Turquoise turtles frolicked in a shimmering pool. A Harry-Potter-esque train circled the ceiling. Colorful children’s art hung in places of honor. Janet Weis was more than a hospital – it was a home.
I was introduced to Bethany and Olivia Moy, the talented artists who had agreed to illustrate the book. The sisters are the creative duo behind The Little Sisters Studio. Together, they have created beautiful artwork, stunning illustrations and, especially important, a gorgeous children’s book, Apple’s New Neighbors. Having been through the self-publishing process, I knew their insight would be invaluable in bringing our book to life.
As we toured the hospital floors with Dr. Ryan, a beloved Geisinger pediatrician, the importance of this project became even clearer. In every room, around every turn, we met talented health professionals and brave patients, witnessed state-of-the-art technology and timeless caregiving, admired supportive families and selfless individuals. The place pulsed with kindness, hope and courage. We couldn’t mess this up. Cue bigger nerves!
Our brainstorming session went beautifully. The Geisinger team had requested that the book reflect the theme of the anniversary gala – superheroes. A great start! We ran with it, and soon landed on the idea of a quest for a cape – a courage cape – that led characters through the hospital halls, giving readers the added bonus of getting to know their new home for the foreseeable future.
The book would be called The Courage Cape. Now, I just had to write it.
I knew from the beginning that Olivia would be a part of this story. My cousin, and one of the most courageous people I’ve ever known, Olivia was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma at the age of 22. She battled bravely for six years, all the while maintaining a fiery spirit and an enduring empathy that astounded me. (A talented writer herself, Olivia chronicled her journey on her own blog, The Sarcastic Sarcoma. Take a look.)
Olivia was determined to not only fight cancer, but to live her life while doing so. She pursued her passion for working with young children. She enjoyed every bite of movie theater popcorn. She wore pretty shoes, met Jimmy Fallon, danced with friends and family, smelled the sunflowers and always got back up on the horse. No, literally.
She taught us all so much, and I knew she could continue to teach others through this book. Graciously, Olivia’s mom and sister, my aunt and cousin, agreed. The Courage Cape had found its superhero.
Fast forward through months of creative collaboration to a finished product of which I could not be prouder. Olivia and Bethany’s artwork brought the story to life in a way I hadn’t dreamed of. I mean, just look at these beauties!
With finished books in hand, we were finally ready to celebrate! On the night of the gala, family and friends donned their black tie best and traveled to the hospital, where the Geisinger team had also been working their magic. We entered a glamorous “courage cave” complete with superhero capes, enticing auction items and, to top it off, the bat-mobile. Talk about an anniversary!
It was a whirlwind night, filled with laughter and love. The book debut went off without a hitch. We even managed to surprise Dr. Ryan with a special dedication and secret character that nobody, especially him, saw coming. Olivia, Bethany and I finished the evening by signing books for guests. As we listened to the heartfelt stories behind each inscription, it struck me how everyone there that night – patient or caregiver, friend or family member – wore their very own courage cape.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to everyone who was involved in The Courage Cape. To the Geisinger team for asking me. To Olivia and Bethany for collaborating with me. To my family and friends for celebrating with me. To Olivia for inspiring me. This has been a highlight of my writing career (and life), and I dedicate it all to my cousin Olivia and all of the Henry family’s cherished angels.
All proceeds of The Courage Cape benefit Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital. To purchase your copy, please contact GeisingerEvents@geisinger.edu or 570-214-6372.