Bald and Beautiful - Alum writes books to help kids with cancer

Brianne and her daughter Baylee.
Brianne and her daughter Baylee.

Brianne (Lytton 01) Banning will always remember an education class with Dr. Robyn Miller (85). Brianne learned about writing a children’s story, but didn’t think she had the creativity to achieve it. Today, inspired by her daughter’s cancer battles, the author of two children’s books finds that day humorous.

“I really thought I didn’t have any story to tell, and that I probably wouldn’t have one in the future to tell,” Brianne said.

A few years after graduating from OC with a degree in physical education, her daughter Baylee was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer at just six months old. The cancer was at stage four, and involved seven tumors. Baylee underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and a two-month stem cell treatment.

“We were totally shocked to learn that our baby had cancer,” Brianne said. “We never even looked on the Internet to learn more about the disease. We knew the statistics for survival were not good. Plus, we knew there was only one physician who could heal her and that was the Great Physician.”

Nearly four years later, Brianne and her husband Aaron received a final clear scan indicating the cancer was gone. But Baylee began having stomach pains the next year, just before starting kindergarten.

“As a parent of a child who has had cancer, every little illness scares you and can make you flip out,” Brianne said. “But you can’t ignore anything. Once again, I found myself on my knees praying, ‘How am I going to do this?’”

The doctors discovered that Baylee had a Wilms tumor on her ovary, a different cancer than before. Fortunately, the cancer was not on a kidney, so the doctors were able to completely remove it. Baylee once again had to receive 15 rounds of chemotherapy, but none were as harsh as her first cancer treatments.

This time, Brianne really struggled with telling Baylee about how she would lose her hair.

“I looked and looked for books that would help me, but so many were dark and very cancer-centric,” Brianne said. “I needed something else.”

Brianne found the answer in Baylee.

“I told her about losing her hair again and she just laughed. She thought it was funny,” Brianne said. “So we sat down and wrote a story about a little girl who had to lose her hair. We came up with the idea of a hair fairy, and we really just wanted the story to have positive, affirmative messages. We didn’t even want to mention cancer.

“After we developed the story, Baylee looked forward to the day the hair fairy would come and get her hair, and then when the fairy would return it for Baylee being so strong and brave.”

After Brianne told others of the story, friends encouraged her to turn it into a book. She self-published “The Beautiful Bald Princess” with illustrations by Tricia Weber, a friend and fellow member of Northside Church of Christ in Wichita. Tate Publishing contacted Banning and agreed to publish the book.

“The book has really allowed us to give back,” Brianne said. “We’ve worked with the Ronald McDonald House, where we had stayed ourselves. I spoke to nearly 1,000 women at the Women Walking with God conference. Friends and church members have bought the books and asked me to give them to children they know. So many people helped our family, and we are more than willing to share our story to help others for God’s glory.”

Another way Brianne has been able to give back is by visiting children in hospitals – dressed as the hair fairy – and reading the book to patients.

This year, Brianne developed a book for boys called “The Brave Bald Knight.” Both books and other materials are available at bravebaldandbeautiful.com. Brianne wants the books to get into the hands of parents and children who need them.

Today, Baylee is cancer-free. Her final treatment was in February 2013, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation is helping her get to Disney World in September.

“It is so exciting to see her play soccer,” Brianne said. “People don’t know how God has worked in her life.”

That perspective reminds Brianne of her time in her mentor’s class, Teaching The Disabled Child, taught by Dr. Max Dobson.

“Working with kids with disabilities in his class allowed me to look at difficult situations differently,” Brianne said. “There are positive ways to help, and there is always something you can do to brighten their day with a story.”

By Josh Watson