Written by: Paola A. Rivera [Photographer]

Meet Leukemia Superstar,

Charlotte Brafford

Before I begin telling you this crazy, incredibly special story, I want to start off by sharing I'm a true believer that everything happens for a reason. Yes, I know, it's cliche and basic, but it's true! This is one of those times where there's absolutely no denying it! You meet people in this world for a reason. They all guide you a certain direction or teach you various lessons, but some... are simply angels.

This is Charlotte.

At just two years of age, Charlotte is the bravest child I know. She fights off every single day with a big, bright smile on her face. Her joyful energy reflected perfectly across the portraits I captured of her. Charlotte came into my life in the most unexpected and remarkable way.

How we met

. . .

It was a typical mid-September day for me as a nanny. If you're not aware, aside from being a photographer, I am also a nanny to a now five year old child, part-time. While with him, I go on fun adventures around Orlando, which on this particular day, consisted of Gatorland. The child I nanny for happens to be on the spectrum and has no sense of spatial awareness. At Gatorland, he has a tendency to ride the train over and over again for hours on end. As we're pulling in from one of our continuous train rides, I happen to notice a large family wearing purple "Wish Family" T-shirts that caught my eye. I am a volunteer at Give Kids The World, an organization dedicated to giving ill children from Make-A-Wish a place to stay while on their Orlando wish trip. Because of this, I assumed they happened to be staying at Give Kids The World. As the train comes to a stop, the wish family gets on and the child I nanny for gets up from his seat and ironically sits on the same bench as their family. I immediately apologized and assured the child I nanny that we can sit right behind them, just not with them. This incident sparked a whirlwind of conversation amongst us and we spent the entire train ride talking! It was at this time I learned my assumptions were correct and they were a wish family enjoying an Orlando trip gifted by Make-A-Wish.

"Every kind person we've met around here is a volunteer at Give Kids The World! It's crazy, because that's where all the nice people are at." - J. Brafford [Charlotte's Father]

Charlotte having some fun with her daddy!

meant to be

. . .

Charlotte's family kindly began sharing their story with me when they found out I was a volunteer there. I learned that Charlotte was actively battling a case of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer that was affecting her tiny little body's white blood cells from functioning adequately. It's a type of cancer that happens to be most common in children. Her cancer certainly hit close to home as my grandmother's daughter, my aunt, sadly lost her battle to leukemia at the young age of fifteen after three years. I don't feel it's my place to discuss intimate details of Charlotte's treatment and diagnosis, but I sure felt lucky to have come across these incredible people. It's hard to describe, but meeting Charlotte that day and learning her story made me feel connected to her family in a beautifully strange way. If I could help make them feel special in any possible way, I wanted to do it. Charlotte's story compelled me to want to provide her family with a small, yet significant gift.

It was at this time when I mentioned I happen to be a wedding & family photographer and would love to provide their family with a photoshoot to remember their well-deserved trip by. I didn't know how much of an impact this would have on them, but as these words fell out of my mouth, I noticed tears welling up in her parents' eyes. Her mom then said, "You know, these may just be the last pictures we ever get as a family..." Hearing her say that made me want to give them this gift even more, especially when all it would take was some time out of my day to make this happen for them. Her parents thanked me just about a million times during that short, yet long train ride. I can't even begin to describe the sense of joy I felt during this moment as I was making their day. It truly takes such a small, kind gesture to make someone happy and I realized it at that moment.

The Brafford Family.

photo time

. . .

Just two days later, we planned accordingly to meet up at Give Kids The World and shoot their session. I was probably there for a good two hours, simply following them around as they enjoyed some activities, capturing their marvelous trip. The amount of smiles and good laughs that I got out of these kids is absolutely lovely. Getting children in general to cooperate can be a handful, let alone a big family of five children! Let me tell you, the session was certainly a success.

Mid-photos, I decided to sneak away with mom and Charlotte to get some pictures of just her! It was then when Charlotte became mesmerized at the sight of my camera. She was all over me and my equipment as I was on the floor, getting shots of her. She was interested in how the buttons worked and wanted to take pictures too! It was fascinating to see her attracted to my profession and what I do. I, of course, had to let her borrow one of my starter cameras I happened to have on hand and got the cutest photos of her playing around with it!

Ready, SeT, Pose!

Being Kind

. . .

After our session, I asked the family where they were spending the rest of their day. When they mentioned Universal Studios and a place in which I happen to have an annual pass to, I quickly offered to join them for an hour at the park and continue our session. They couldn't have been any more excited and that's exactly what happened! We met up later that day at Islands of Adventures by the front gate and it couldn't have been more than 15 minutes later when it began pouring rain! Typical Florida, right? Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get much of them at the park as the weather only proceeded to get worst. We found cover and spent a good hour talking before we all decided it'd be best to just head right back out of the park.

Before leaving, Charlotte's family thanked me just about billion more times. Her father said,

"You truly are an angel that came right into our lives the moment we needed it most. Thank you for going out of your way to make this happen. We will treasure these pictures for the rest of our lives, which is the greatest gift you could give us. We'll never forget you." - J. Brafford [Charlotte's Father]

It's Pouring Rain!

The most beautiful part of it all is that as we were heading out, the kids were asking me to join them every single day remaining of their trip! While I was completely flattered, they needed to enjoy that time as a family. It was the best feeling in the world to have made these kids, these parents so so happy on that day!

The Brafford Family at Harry Potter World!

Charlotte today

. . .

Shortly after the trip, I received a call from Charlotte's mother informing me that Charlotte had been continuously saying my name when they returned back home. I was elated to hear that I not only touched her family's lives, but also her two-year-old self. It's the very best "thank you" I got!

To this day, I still keep in touch with Charlotte's mother. Every other month, she'll update me on Charlotte and her family's well-being. I am happy to say that Charlotte is doing very well lately! Their goal is to bring her back to Give Kids The World to see her "star" in two years.

If you aren't aware, Give Kids The World has a "star room" consisting of hundreds of thousands of stars, each belonging to a wish child. Families have a right to return to see their star again & enjoy their amenities once a year. This has now become Charlotte's family's goal. When that time comes, I will surely be capturing those special moments, once again!

The Stars

Being Grateful

. . .

Though this family may see me as their angel, I see them as mine, especially little Charlotte. She's a brave little warrior and I am grateful she came into my life at the most perfect time. Charlotte touched my heart and gave me a grand realization that it is so important to give back to the community each time you're able to. Every day is the perfect opportunity to make someone smile, so do it!

Family Memories

Little Charlotte Brafford.

Love what you see?


Follow me on Instagram