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Mentoring cancer patient impacts senior’s outlook on life

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Seven-year-old Mia Cochran and senior Charlotte Haggerty hold hands as they walk across the field before the game. Mia joined the women's varsity lacrosse team on the sidelines during the game and cheered on the team.

Senior Charlotte Haggerty walks into a hospital room filled with strangers. In front of her, on the hospital bed, lies seven-year-old Mia Cochran, who is connected to several machines and recovering from chemotherapy earlier in the day. Her mother, Jessica Cochran, flashes a smile at Haggerty as she introduces herself and explains her involvement with Cool Kids Campaign. Although Mia was irritable due to her chemotherapy, Haggerty remained optimistic and looked forward to seeing her again.

Since their first meeting, Haggerty has been mentoring Mia, who was cancer-free for almost three years before her leukemia relapsed in early September. Haggerty was able to connect with Mia through a program called Cool Kids Campaign which “helps with families whose children are cancer patients and provides them with a place [to hang out],” according to Haggerty.

Haggerty decided to mentor Mia for her Senior Project to have a first-hand experience with pediatric oncology, which she hopes to pursue it as her profession one day. Rather than shadowing a doctor, which is common for seniors who decide to explore a career for their Senior Project, Haggerty wanted to see her career from the patient’s side. “Having been on the other side with the patient has showed me how hard it really is on the family,” she said.

Throughout the year, Haggerty visited Mia at least once a week and would try to visit more often when Mia was in the hospital. “The goal is to take her mind off of things because, obviously, when she’s in the hospital, it’s not where she wants to be. I remember her saying that she was so tired of being there,” Haggerty said. 

[My favorite moment with Charlotte and Mia was] just the way they clicked, it was instant. Charlotte prepares before she comes, and I appreciate that.”

— Jessica Cochran, Mia's mother

During these visits, the two girls would play with Snapchat filters, give each other manicures and pedicures, or do whatever Haggerty brought for the day. These visits were one of Mia’s favorite things. “I like to [play with] Legos and color things. She usually brings crafts when she comes,” she said.

These visits have acted as a distraction for Mia and has given her something to look forward to each week. “[My favorite moment with Charlotte and Mia was] just the way they clicked, it was instant. Charlotte prepares before she comes, and I appreciate that,” Jessica Cochran said. “She has intentions and that’s important. There’s never a dull moment when those two are together.”

One element of Haggerty’s Senior Project was hosting an out-of-uniform day and a lacrosse game to honor Mia and helping raise money to pay for the medical expenses. From both fundraisers, Haggerty was able to raise $2,509 for the family. 

“Lacrosse is one of my passions because I’ve been playing it all my life and [will be] continuing it into college, and I felt like a lacrosse game could bring people together,” Haggerty said. She decided to honor Mia with a lacrosse game because she thought “it would be a good way to get people out there for a fun event, and it was good competition.”

During the lacrosse game on April 28 against Archbishop Spalding, Mia became a member of the team. Besides joining the team on the sidelines, she participated in other activities such as having the referee check her new lacrosse stick, joining the team huddles, and being involved with flipping the coin.

Before the game started, Haggerty honored Mia with a ceremony where she shared Mia’s story with the fans and presented her with a brand new lacrosse stick that was donated by STX. “It was impressive. I know a lot of work went into it. It was really meaningful and heartwarming, and it was nice to be on the receiving end of that,” Jessica Cochran said.

Mia thought being on the sidelines was fun and she liked the lacrosse game. “I liked Charlotte’s friends,” she said. Her favorite friend was junior Ashley Schwartz, who kept her entertained throughout the game. 

You just have to realize that your life could change in any given moment and to cherish the times that you have, because it could all be gone whenever.”

— Senior Charlotte Haggerty

“I went up to her and told her that I loved her shoes, and she told me how they were custom made for her. I kneeled down and started talking to her about her life, friends, the animals she has, and we bonded over that,” Schwartz said. After that, Schwartz spent most of the time playing a game with Mia where she would get on her back and Schwartz would pretend that Mia went missing and would try to look for her.

Although the team did not win, Haggerty believes that the game went well. “I think it was still an awesome experience for her and the team because it put things in perspective [and helped them realize] how lucky we really are to be able to play and to be here today,” she said.

Schwartz agrees with Haggerty and believes that this experience impacted her. “Mia made me see what bravery and strength looked like. For her being so young and having such a threatening cancer, she was so spirited and happy. It made me realize that life isn’t promised and, when something is wrong, you shouldn’t let it put a damper on your mood, and you should remain positive,” she said.

Haggerty plans on continuing to strengthen her relationship with the Cochran family and be there for Mia even though Haggerty is graduating. “I definitely want to keep in touch with her throughout the summer and even when I’m in college because I think it would be hard for me to just say, ‘alright I’m done, thanks for that.’ I also think that would be hard for her and her parents,” Haggerty said.

According to Jessica Cochran, Haggerty has been a friend, role model, good company, and a distraction for her daughter and her family. “Charlotte’s been another person of support, which is great because she’s given Mia something that her family couldn’t give her. Sometimes you need somebody who isn’t family,” she said. “She’s been kind, understanding, [and] always happy, so that’s been helpful.”

Looking back, Haggerty has learned to not take life for granted and to be happy regardless of the situation you are in. “Once you’re almost three years cancer-free, you shouldn’t have it come back. You just have to realize that your life could change in any given moment and to cherish the times that you have, because it could all be gone whenever,” she said.

Caroline Cooney is the Editor in Chief of The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.

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Mentoring cancer patient impacts senior’s outlook on life