July 22, 2014 at 1:40 PM ET
Three little girls who won the Internet's heart when their photo went viral in early April have good news to share: They're all in remission.
Rheann, 6, Ainsley, 4, and Rylie, 3, were all battling different types of cancer when they were brought together by Lora Scantling, a photographer based in Bethany, Oklahoma, along with fellow photographer Christy Goodger. Ainsley and Rylie were mostly in the clear at the time of the photoshoot at Scantling and Goodger’s studio, but Rheann’s fate still hung in the balance.
But Scantling was recently thrilled to find out that Rheann, too, was in remission, which she learned from a Facebook post from Rheann’s mother Valerie. “It’s amazing, I was pretty excited," Scantling told TODAY.com. "When I found out she was cancer-free, I teared up! I knew she had a check-up, but when she posted that, I didn’t expect it. It was a big surprise!”
“I was hoping for good news, but I wasn’t expecting the good news this quick,” Rheann’s mother Valerie told TODAY.com of the check-up. “The doctor and I got up and danced together. We danced down the hallway.”
Rheann was first diagnosed in October 2012, and while her initial response to the chemotherapy treatments made doctors hopeful, a relapse in April of 2013 took the prognosis from cautious optimism to her family planning her services.
But the brave 6-year-old managed to pull through, and touched many others along the way. Valerie said that after the photo went viral, she received responses from patients who met Rheann during her treatment. “They said, 'She came up to me and told me, "You're gonna be fine," and it looks like she was telling herself the same thing.'"
Scantling originally came up with the idea for the photographs when her own family was affected by cancer.
“My step dad was fighting cancer at the time, he had lung cancer,” Scantling told TODAY.com. “And I always wanted to create pictures that mean something.” She was moved by an Anne Geddes photo series of children with missing limbs, and was inspired to do similar work: “I thought, I need to do something that gives my viewers the same feeling.”
She posted to Facebook asking friends if they knew any little girls fighting cancer, which led her to connect with lots of families enthusiastic about participating. The three little girls in the now-iconic photo had not met before the day of the sweet photo shoot, which spread the message that those suffering in the same way were not alone.
After the photo was taken, Andrea Peters, Ainsley’s mother, told TODAY.com that they were overwhelmed by the response. “I thought, what a wonderful way to bring more awareness for childhood cancer," she said. "The fact that the girls looked so beautiful and were also going through this horrendous treatment, it was touching for me as a mother that other people could see the beauty in my child.”
The overwhelming response also led Ally's House, a cancer foundation in Oklahoma, to approach Scantling and Goodger to take more photos of kids battling disease.
She recently photographed a young boy named Garrett who was battling cancer, and he subsequently passed away a few weeks later. “When I found out, I just started bawling. You get attached to these kids,” Scantling said. But she’s happy his family is able to have the photos to keep his memory alive.
Scantling is the mother to two little girls, ages eight and five, and though they don’t quite understand her work, she’s already passed on her passion to them: “They were playing pictures, as they call it, and they love baby dolls. They had the dolls sitting on a little chair and said 'Look! We’re taking pictures of cancer babies just like you!'"
Just a few weeks after the initial photos were taken, Scantling's stepfather passed away, but not before he'd been able to appreciate the work his stepdaughter had done. “He was real proud and told me to keep on,” she said.
Her original plan was to take a new photo of the three girls one year after the original, but once she found out all three were in remission, she began to plan for an update. She says it will likely happen within the next month, and will be shot in the same style — and with the same outifts — as the original.
As for the concept, Scantling wants the new photo to convey a joyful message: “I’ve been talking to the parents about getting a new picture together of them jumping and saying 'We’re free!'"