Courtney “Coco” Johnson has had a turbulent past 10 months.
The 15-year-old teen was diagnosed with cancer in June just a day after her eighth-grade graduation ceremony. She lives in Pasadena with brother Parker, dad Kelly, and mom April Danz.
She had been having leg pain for a week and tests quickly revealed she had a Ewing sarcoma, a type of tumor in her left femur. Since then, she has had two surgeries and over a dozen chemotherapy sessions that required her to stay in the hospital — causing her to miss a year of high school.
“There was a lot of time that I just wasn’t feeling well for many days at a time,” she shared with BuzzFeed News.
But her mother, April, said Coco has been resilient during the entire process.
“She really didn’t let it get her down,” April shared. “We’ve had some low moments, but she never felt sorry for herself. She hung in there and did it with a smile on her face.”
This past Tuesday, the teen completed her final chemotherapy session and was able to leave Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) for the last time.
While under normal circumstances kids are able to ring a bell amid a celebration with lots of friends and family, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the hospital only allowed patients to have one visitor at a time.
So when she left the hospital amid the pandemic, Coco believed her simple celebration would happen with just a few staff members and immediate family seeing her off. But she couldn’t be more wrong.
April had shared with friend, Sonia Singla, just a few days prior how she felt bad her daughter was missing out on a party. “I just felt like she’s gone through this whole thing and we’ve been talking about having a party,” April said. “I felt so bad for her.”
Singla got creative and decided to hold a “reverse parade,” for Coco where loved ones would drive to their street, sit in their cars, and wave as she arrived home.
The family car turned the corner to their street and Danz began recording on her cellphone, expecting to see a handful of folks but instead, she was met with dozens and dozens of friends and supporters of Coco.
Singla had texted multiple people — who in turn texted additional people — each group in their cars so as to maintain social distancing. Many brought signs, posters, streamers, and balloons to celebrate Coco’s milestone.
“When we turned the corner, it was very emotional for all of us,” April said.
The video captured Coco overwhelmed with emotion as she waved to the people who had been supporting her family these past 10 months.
“I was just completely overwhelmed,” Coco said. “I wasn’t expecting anything, and I was just so surprised and grateful that everyone showed up to celebrate me.”
“It really hit me at that moment that everyone was there for me,” she said.
April was also overwhelmed as many who had shown up had been either cooking meals or otherwise assisting the family during Coco’s treatment period. Just a few weeks prior to the reverse parade, they’d made hundreds of hats reading “Team Coco: Nobody Fights Alone” and posted them on social media. And alone Coco was definitely not.
“We’ve been pretty stoic for, honestly, 10 months and it was just the biggest emotional release to have her ring that bell and then turn the corner and see all these people who’ve been there for us,” she said.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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