Young Cancer Patient Packs Shoeboxes, Puts Others First

December 16, 2016 • United States
Emma Hemphill hugs a sample of the donated homemade teddy bears she packed in her Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.
Emma Hemphill hugs a sample of the donated homemade teddy bears she packed in her Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

Ten-year-old Emma Hemphill of Lewisville, North Carolina, packed 110 Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts in six weeks.

Emma celebrates packing 110 shoeboxes! “We are praying that every child who receives a box will come to know Jesus,” her mom, Maegan, said.

Emma celebrates packing 110 shoeboxes! “We are praying that every child who receives a box will come to know Jesus,” her mom, Maegan, said.

Emma Hemphill, 10, is like a lot of girls her age: her favorite color is blue and she likes to ride her bike, go to the park, and swim. But like only three in a million children her age, she has Ewing’s sarcoma—a rare form of bone cancer.

Diagnosed on October 3, 2016, Emma was immediately hospitalized and spent all but five days of that first month receiving chemotherapy. When friends from River Oaks Community Church in Clemmons, North Carolina, visited her in the hospital and asked what they could bring her, Emma said she wanted items to put in Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. People brought toys, schools supplies, and hygiene items to her room on the ninth floor of Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem so she could do just that.

“It helped to pass the time,” Emma said. But that wasn’t the only reason why she did it.

You Can Build a Shoebox Online

“I love packing them. It’s just a lot of fun for me. It makes me feel really good inside. I love helping others,” she said.

She filled 110 shoebox gifts in the six weeks between her diagnosis and National Collection Week, the third week in November.

‘I Just Wanted Them All to Know and Love Jesus’

The shoebox items came from friends, donation boxes set up at her sisters’ schools, and a couple trips to the store as a family. When Emma was able to be at home, their living room became shoebox-packing central.

“We had stuff for every age and both genders,” said Emma’s mother, Maegan.

Emma packs shoebox gifts from her hospital room on the oncology floor.

Emma packs shoebox gifts from her hospital room on the oncology floor.

Emma’s favorite items included stuffed animals as well as soap and toothbrush holders.

But she didn’t stop when she had filled the boxes. She prayed over every single one of them, asking God to bless the recipient.

“I just wanted them all to know and love Jesus,” Emma said. She wanted the boxes to “bring them lots of joy.”

Maegan added through tears, “Wouldn’t it be neat, Emma, when we get to heaven to meet some of the kids who got your shoeboxes?”

In the next couple of weeks, Emma’s family anticipates hearing where some of their boxes are going because for one-third of them, they opted to Follow Your Box and discover the destination of their gifts.

Emma’s family has packed shoebox gifts for children in need ever since she was little. But they usually packed one for each of the three children (Emma; Grace, 7; and Mary Salem, 4) and sometimes one for her mom and dad, Lee.

It wasn’t a shock to Maegan that Emma wanted to do more this year.

“She’s always been a giver,” she said.

But Emma is not content just to rest on her accomplishments in 2016.

“Let’s do 150 next year!”

When It All Began

On Friday, September 30, Maegan returned home from a trip to Raleigh to find Emma hobbling around and complaining that her leg hurt.

The next morning, Emma’s American Heritage Girls troop had a service project, but she had to sit it out because she said, “I don’t feel like I can walk.”

By Sunday morning, she couldn’t walk at all so they brought her to their pediatrician that afternoon. The doctor recommended an X-ray so Maegan brought Emma to the hospital to see an orthopedist. The films showed clear lines on the edge of her tibia, but the edges of the secondary bone, her fibula, were fuzzy.

Emma enjoys packing some of her shoebox gifts at home.

Emma enjoys packing some of her shoebox gifts at home.

By 11:00 pm Sunday, Emma was getting an MRI. What was supposed to be a 20-minute test ended up taking an hour and a half. The radiologist kept requesting different views because he discovered a tumor so large that it had fractured her fibula. This was the only symptom of the cancer. All of her bloodwork was normal.

By 2:00 a.m. Monday morning, Emma was admitted to the hematology/oncology floor of the hospital.

Now Emma rotates between in-patient and out-patient chemotherapy with the goal of getting four to five days off a month. She hasn’t managed that ratio so far, however, because she has gotten sick along the way. Any fever can put her in the emergency room.

Emma requests prayer that she would remain healthy enough to stay on her current treatment schedule. If she does, she’ll be able to be home for Christmas.

To receive more regular updates on how to pray for Emma, see her public Facebook group “Prayers for Emma,” now nearly 700 members strong.

‘What’s My Next Project?’

With 110 shoebox gifts behind them, Emma and Maegan are now focusing on improving the ninth floor of the hospital where she spends so much time. They’re sorting and restocking the DVD library on the floor and looking for other ways to bless the nurses and other patients.

“They need a swimming pool in the nurses’ station,” Emma said in fun. “Or a gumball machine. Or free pizza delivery every Thursday!”

These big ideas aside, she is thankful for the time her family spent packing shoeboxes with her this year.

With her can-do spirit, she asked, “What’s my next project?”

Although medical statistics say that Emma’s case is among three in a million, Maegan said, “We think she’s one in a million!” The children who receive her shoebox gifts will think the same.

The Hemphills took this family photo just as Emma started chemotherapy:  (Left to right) Emma, Lee, Mary Salem, Maegan, and Grace.

The Hemphills took this family photo just as Emma started chemotherapy: (left to right) Emma, Lee, Mary Salem, Maegan, and Grace.

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