GLEN ELLYN – After Emily Beazley had been receiving treatment for T-cell lymphoblastic non-Hodgkin lymphoma for about two months, she was admitted to the hospital for a fever.
The hospital’s music therapist came to visit her, as she often did, to sing songs. This time, though, the therapist asked Emily what song she’d like to sing. That was easy: “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus.
“I have a mountain in my life, and I go up and down in my life,” said Emily, 10, of Chicago. “I’m stuck climbing the mountain, and I’m almost at the top.”
“The Climb” became Emily’s cancer-fighting song. It inspired the redesigned music room that volunteers from Special Spaces and the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn created at Emily’s home.
Special Spaces is a national organization that redesigns bedrooms for children with life-threatening illnesses. Kelly Knox founded the Chicago-area chapter based in Naperville last fall. The chapter’s goal is to create a bedroom for one child every month, Knox said.
For Emily’s new bedroom, Special Spaces found a partner in COD. Every project needs a sponsor to provide about $3,000 for the purchase of materials for the new bedroom, as well as volunteers to bring the space to life. But in COD’s case, students and staff members went above and beyond.
After Knox started the Chicago-area chapter, she contacted several colleges in the region to partner with the organization on projects. But only COD responded to say it wanted to participate.
Ann Cotton, coordinator of the interior design program at COD, said she agreed to the project because it gave students an opportunity to gain practical experience and contribute to a good cause at the same time.
Team leaders were Paige Ronchetti and Stephanie Michalek, who worked on the bedroom, and Liz Wensel, Nancy Faller and Tiffany Miller, who worked on the music room. Student Charlie Struck also volunteered with the project.
Instead of just redesigning Emily’s bedroom, the COD team also decided to redo her music room, where she spends a lot of time with her younger sister, Olivia, 6. They also purchased all the materials for the rooms, something Knox typically does after sponsors provide the necessary funds.
Renovations to both rooms included providing new furniture, artwork and window treatments. Volunteers also repainted the music room to be bright green. Muralist Ken Markiewicz of Crayons Gone Wild painted lyrics from “The Climb” on the wall as well.
Emily said her favorite parts of both rooms include the music room mural and her bed, which was exactly what she wanted: a bed that had drawers underneath it.
“I really loved my new room,” she said. “It made me feel special.”
Emily’s mother, Nadia, said she was surprised by how personal everything was.
She said volunteers even printed pictures that her daughter Olivia had colored and made them into murals to hang in the music room. For people who don’t know firsthand what it’s like to have a child battling cancer, Nadia said it was amazing for them to care so much.
“It restores my faith in people,” Nadia said. “I see the good in people.”
Since the family has to spend a lot of their time indoors to protect Emily from germs that can make her sicker, the new rooms help to provide a new adventure for Emily and her sister.
“It’s something my husband and I could have never given them,” said Nadia, whose husband, Ed, is a detective with the Chicago Police Department.
And volunteers from COD were more than happy to give that to the girls.
“It was just such a great opportunity to give back some of the joy that maybe the family had lost during her treatments and illness,” student Tiffany Miller said.
Student Nancy Faller said she was happy to try out the skills she learned while providing a fresh start for Emily.
“For Emily, she said herself that this is a new beginning,” Faller said.
Emily has been undergoing treatment for her cancer for about two years and is scheduled to finish July 18.
Emily said her old room contains bad memories of being sick, but her new room is the start of a new chapter.
In Emily’s new room, there’s a painting of two people climbing a mountain. Emily said the first person is her sister, kneeling down and telling her, “Come on, you can do it.” Behind Olivia is Emily, continuing to make the climb to the top with the help of her little sister.
After volunteers finished redesigning Emily’s bedroom and the girls’ music room, Emily and Olivia spent the entire next day in the music room, playing and writing songs, Nadia said. Emily said she knows how to play “The Climb” on the piano, and she’s learning on the violin.
“Every time I play ‘The Climb’ on my piano and sing, it pushes me, and I know I can do it,” she said. “I know I can. I’m not going to lose this fight. I’m going to win.”