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Former cancer patients continue powerful photo tradition for 5th year

TODAY logo TODAY 5/2/2019 Scott Stump

a couple of girls posing for a photo: TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site

TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site
© Courtesy of Lora Scantling

Three little girls have come together for their annual heartwarming reminder of how they stood by each other's side as they faced an incredibly difficult time.

Oklahoma girls Rheann Franklin, 11, Ainsley Peters, 9, and Rylie Hughey, 8, first met for a touching photo together that went viral in 2014 while they were being treated for cancer.

All three are now cancer-free, and they recently gathered once again to re-create the sweet picture with Oklahoma photographer Lora Scantling. You can also see their photos from 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The annual reunion helps remind them of what they've been through, while also inspiring other kids who are in the midst of their cancer journey.

The girls were also were joined again this year by their new buddy, Connor Lloyd, 4, who was part of last year's photo. He is currently being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

"This project has been amazing,'' Scantling told TODAY in an email. "I get some of the most heartwarming messages about people who come across the photo online and tell me about how it has helped them or someone they know through a dark time in their life.

"I don't think these girls will ever understand just how powerful a simple picture of the three of them hugging has been."

While the girls are cancer-free, they are still feeling its effects.

Rheann, who has sprouted up four inches in the past year, has had to start growth hormone treatment as a result of past cancer treatments. She also can no longer grow hair and will always be bald due to the intense radiation to her skull during her treatments and her eyes droop due to damage from how the tumor sat on her brain stem.

Her parents say she's had "some changes" over the past year that are "all for the better," and add that she's doing "really well."

Rylie had to have one kidney removed and a portion of the other one taken out during her treatment for Stage 4 bilateral Wilms tumors when she was two years old. She is now an active second grader involved in dance, gymnastics and softball.

"The most precious thing that has come from this is watching Rylie's faith grow and mature, and watching her have so much love in her heart for everyone around her,'' Rylie's mother, Bridget Hughey, told TODAY in an email.

Ainsley, who will turn 10 on May 7, still goes for checkups twice a year and remains cancer-free. She loves singing, reading, riding bikes and playing with her brother and friends, her parents told TODAY.

Connor currently goes to monthly chemotherapy treatments at a clinic and daily chemotherapy treatments administered at home. His treatment is expected to continue until 2021, and he has already endured 49 rounds of chemotherapy.

After being a shy participant in last year's photo shoot, Scantling said Connor fit right in this year and was laughing and having a great time with the girls.

"It means a lot for our family to help raise awareness for childhood cancer, and we felt Connor joining the shoot last year would show that while the girls are doing great, every day new kids are diagnosed,'' Connor's parents told TODAY in an email. "Childhood cancer is not as rare as people may believe and could happen to anyone at any time unexpectedly.

"We are fortunate that Connor has responded so well to treatment to date, but there is so much more that needs to be done with research and treatment of pediatric cancers. We want to help raise that continued awareness and couldn't think of a better way then participating in this photo shoot."

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