One Thousand Paper Cranes

Posted by Jessica Armstrong on

The Flight of Senbazuru

One day, 1,000 paper cranes, trailing gold dust, flew to Peyton
and lifted him up so high that he could see into the future.
He could see babies, children, their parents and families
sleeping peacefully in their own beds.
He could see researchers, doctors, nurses and advocates with their hands
reaching up and cheering, jumping for joy.
And he could see the children with wings, the ones who once had cancer,
skipping, twirling and smiling.
For childhood cancer was nowhere to be seen in the world.
This is the message of the Senbazuru, the 1,000 paper cranes.   

~Jessica Armstrong

Sadako Sasaki’s Wish

While holding a paper crane she had folded, a 12-year old girl named Sadako Sasaki said as some of her final words, “I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world so that children will no longer have to die this way.” 

I remember reading the storybook, “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr when I was in middle school. Sadako was a hibakusha—an atom bomb survivor. When she was just two years old, she was blown out of a window of her house, one mile from where the nuclear bomb exploded in Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Her mother found her in the rubble as black soot rained down on them from the sky. Nine years later, Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia and told that she had less than a year to live. Many children exposed to the radiation from the atomic explosion were diagnosed with leukemia, and given the same prognosis as Sadako in the 1950s.

Sadako folded origami cranes out of paper, medicine wrappers, and whatever else she could find that could be bent and creased. Her goal was to make senbazuru—the Japanese term for 1,000 paper cranes. In Japanese tradition, anyone with the commitment to fold 1,000 paper cranes is granted one wish. Sadako’s wish, of course, was to live. Eleanor Coerr’s book is historical fiction and tells only part of her story. According to Sadako’s older brother Masahiro Sasaki in his book “The Complete Story of Sadako Sasaki”, she folded 1,000 paper cranes and as her condition worsened, resolved to fold another thousand. Sadako folded over 1,400 paper cranes, first with the wish for her own healing and then for a wish for healing on a much larger scale. Her burial must have been breathtaking, as she was enshrouded with her colorful paper birds. 

Because of Sadako, her story of childhood cancer and her wish at the end of her life, the symbol of the origami paper crane represents one of the most uplifting messages—the perseverance to live and a hope for healing and peace.  

The Binders

I’m sitting with Peyton’s oncologist in his office at the infusion clinic about to discuss Peyton’s treatment plan. Dr. Smith is nearly jumping out of his chair with excitement as he shares with me a recent and remarkable discovery in childhood cancer research from the Children’s Oncology Group. He tells me, “The timing for this could not be more perfect for Peyton.” The discovery involved children with high-risk ALL enrolled in a clinical study who were given high doses of the drug methotrexate. The research showed that methotrexate, given in higher doses, significantly lowered the chances of relapse later in life. So positive were the results from this breakthrough, that even survivors who had completed chemotherapy would be notified to step back into cancer treatment to receive eight weeks of high-dose methotrexate. 

Dr. Smith, still excited but more serious now, explains to me that high-dose methotrexate (HDMTX) requires hospitalization and that it is so taxing on the body that it would need to be followed by a “rescue” medicine called Leucovorin to decrease the toxic effects of the methotrexate.

Next week Peyton is supposed to receive the standard dose of methotrexate, but now he will get a much higher dosage. I’m struck by what Dr. Smith said about the timing, about how perfect it is for Peyton. 

“How long did the study take to find this better treatment?” I ask.

He says that he will have to get back to me on the exact number of years the study lasted, but that methotrexate was one of the first chemotherapy drugs used to treat childhood leukemia. As early as 1948, some children achieved remission with methotrexate, but the optimal regimen had not been figured out yet. He then tells me that while it’s devastating that children contracted leukemia from radiation from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the studies done with these children have greatly helped the advancement of the chemo therapies we see today for leukemia and for other childhood cancers.

Sadako Sasaki would have been treated with methotrexate in 1955.

It hits me hard, what he is saying. I am unable to articulate any words at the moment and I can feel my eyes well up with tears, so I look away. I’m staring at the rows and rows of binders lining several bookshelves that fill up an entire wall in his office. I ask him a question I have wondered about before. “What are all these binders on the shelves?”

Dr. Smith replies, “They are records of studies and trials; records of children that have helped us understand what works and what doesn’t work for childhood cancer.”

I can hardly take it all in—all the efforts, all the time, all the children, all the suffering that have, up to that very day, helped to refine the treatments that are giving my son the greatest chance to live.

A Portrait of Childhood Cancer

In the eight weeks Peyton received infusions of HDMTX it turned his skin a yellow-green color, caused severe mouth sores and finished off the last bits of hair he had left. During this time, artist Daniel Sprick took photographs of Peyton and painted his portrait, giving it the title, Young Peyton. Every night of those eight weeks, with our yellow-green, bald, and barely-able-to-speak Peyton, we knelt in prayer, expressing our gratitude for all the research there has ever been for childhood cancer and our love for all the children whose lives and legacy are part of that research.

Daniel Sprick Young Peyton

With Peyton’s Potion, the symbol of the crane in our logo, and through our Peyton's Paper Crane Project, we carry an uplifting wish inspired by Sadako Sasaki—to see a world that supports children living healthy, happy lives, free of cancer once and for all.    

Peyton’s Paper Cranes Timeline

2011

Peyton receives a package of 1,000 paper cranes folded by a Japanese woman he has not yet met, Tomoko Hauck. Tomoko made 1,000 paper cranes for Blake Wilcox, another boy in leukemia treatment at the same time as Peyton. Blake and his mother Kathleen heard about Peyton and with Tomoko made him 1,000 paper cranes.

Peytons Armstrong, Tomoko Hauk, Kathleen and Blake Wilcox

2011–2013 

Peyton asks his family, friends and community to help him make 4,000 paper cranes to give to 4 children undergoing cancer treatment he learns of in Colorado. Cranes are delivered in the mail to Peyton, left at his front porch and made in droves by his classmates and local schools. Later on, Peyton teaches how to make paper cranes in schools.

2011

Peyton and his family, along with their local hospital, Valley View, host “Peyton’s Magic Potion Parade”, an event to mark the first year of his treatment and raise funds for the hospital's cancer patients. Peyton has a “Peyton’s Paper Crane” booth at this event, collecting over 1,000 paper cranes. Registrants are given a bottle of Peyton’s Potion. To commemorate the event, Valley View Hospital inscribes a paver for their Healing Garden—“Peyton’s Magic Potion Parade October 19, 2011”.

Rainbow paper cranes and cobalt Peyton's Potion spray bottle and Peyton's Parade photographFebruary 15, 2014 

Peyton’s last day of cancer treatment! He makes paper cranes, writing uplifting messages on them and with his mom, places them one by one in and around his home town and along the drive to Denver at specific places they would stop on their way to his treatments.

December 2015

Peyton makes tiny paper cranes ornaments and ties them around Peyton’s Potion bottles for a special holiday promotion.

2012– 2018   

Peyton teaches how to make paper cranes in the origami booth at “Rally The Valley”, a local fundraising event for Valley View Hospital cancer patients. 

February 15, 2019

Peyton and his friends fold paper cranes to celebrate his final day of follow-up with cancer treatment and NED - No Evidence of Disease!

2019

Peyton’s Potion’s new logo and branding is an uplifted,  gold paper crane. 

 

 

 

Jessica ArmstrongJess is Peyton’s mom and co-founder of Peyton’s Potion. She is a Life Story journal writer and storyteller. Jess has been keeping journals since she first learned to write. Her journal entries throughout Peyton’s cancer treatment were also posted regularly on caringbridge.org 

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