A letter from the smallest state gave Zoe Ray the biggest smile.
Zoe, a St. Luke’s pediatric cancer patient, who lives with her family in Eagle, has been fighting a brain tumor for three years.
Nicknamed “Zoe Ray of Sunshine” for her bubbly personality and her positive approach, Zoe has been stronger than anyone could have predicted. However, the treatment process can be slow and test the toughest of us, regardless of age.
In August, her mother, Chrissy, posted a request on Facebook for people to send words of encouragement as her daughter approached her 1,000th day of chemotherapy, on Sept. 3.
Letters began to pour in from around Idaho, then around the country. About half of the 50 states were accounted for in the first three weeks.
After a “Good Morning America” appearance Aug. 26, they took off.
“At first, we just wanted to surprise her with them, but we started to get so many, and so many people showing up with gifts, we couldn’t keep it a secret,” Chrissy Ray said.
“One day, we got 350 cards. It’s just been incredible.”
The letters helped keep up Zoe’s spirits and she loved every visit from postal carriers – “our new best friends,” her mother said with a laugh. Some packages have simply read “Zoe Ray, Eagle, ID,” with no address, but the carriers know exactly where it is meant to be delivered.
To date, Zoe has received more than 3,000 cards. The Ray family often sits together and opens the envelopes and packages; those written in cursive are read aloud for Zoe, who turned 8 on Sept. 29.
As part of her wish for 1,000 cards, she wanted at least one from all 50 states. She had 49 – until she got one from Rhode Island on Sept. 9.
“You can see it on her face, just how cool that was for her,” Chrissy Ray said.
Cards and gifts have also come from Canada, France, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Guam, Thailand and Spain. Origami paper cranes, a symbol of hope and healing, have come from Japan. One man, who makes handmade crosses with reclaimed materials, sent the 1,000th he has made.
The gifts have been plentiful, and Zoe intends to share the generosity, donating many to the kids at St. Luke's Children’s Cancer Institute.
“Zoe is an awesome little lady,” said Kim White, Ray’s child life specialist at St. Luke’s. “She has improved her coping skills tremendously over the time that we have been working together and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
“She is smart as a whip, quite mature for her age, and so funny. Watching her progress from incredibly scared, anxious and crying to confident, capable, and at ease with her medical care has been beautiful to watch.”
Chrissy Ray called White “a magician,” adding that Dr. Eugenia Chang is “amazing” and that Nurse Navigator Nick Sandmeyer “is one of Zoe’s favorite people in the world.”
Zoe woke up the morning of Sept. 3 with a huge celebration display in her yard, courtesy of a neighbor. Another made a cake. A shave ice truck pulled up into the neighborhood, and a local farm brought mini ponies.
St. Luke’s nurse Joe Ronquillo (aka “The Dancing Nurse”) organized a flash mob dance to entertain.
“He hasn’t even been her nurse, and still wanted to show support,” Chrissy said. “That was really neat.”
It wasn’t long ago that Zoe would go to her kindergarten class after an IV chemotherapy treatment.
“She’s probably handled it better than anyone in the family,” her mom said. “Her tumor has shrunk from 4 cm to 3 cm.
“She’s doing great. We knew it would be a slow process, but it is working.”
Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.