Small But Mighty: 11-Year-Old Crafts Comforts for Kids With Cancer

Alberta tween with brain cancer enlists some NHL help as a 'childhood cancer awareness warrior'

Cecily Eklund, 11, has always adored her baby dolls. When she was six, she needed them more than ever: She had to go through brain-cancer surgery and MRI scans, but she was told she couldn’t take her favourite dolls with her into the magnetic machine because they had metal in them.

So Cecily and her mom, Cathy—a home-schooler of seven kids and a professional doll maker in Westlock, Alta.—got creative. Together, they made a special doll, using weighted glass and other MRI-safe materials, that could stay with Cecily during the long imaging appointments.

Besides the materials it was made with, the doll was unique in that it had no facial features.

“That’s so they can have any emotion,” says Cecily, who was inspired to create these dolls, called “Blessing Babies,” for other sick kids. She and her mom began crafting more (Cecily did the hand sewing and stuffing, while her mom handled the machine work), donating some to children’s hospitals and selling others to fundraise.

Due to high demand, they recruited other doll makers to work alongside them. Soon, doll makers worldwide also began contributing, sending boxes of their handmade dolls to support the cause.

Cecily’s initiatives grew. She began selling handmade plush puppies and inspirational clothing patches, in addition to running toy drives and fundraisers for various charities, such as the Edmonton Police Foundation’s canine-unit program, the Kids With Cancer Society and the Ben Stelter fund, in honour of another Edmonton child, who died of brain cancer at age six. Including monetary and gift donations, Cecily has raised more than $200,000 so far.

Cecily’s generosity caught the attention of another high-profile Edmontonian, the Oilers’ power forward Evander Kane, who met her in the press box at a game in December 2022, when he was recovering from a lacerated wrist. Kane gave her an autographed jersey, and in exchange she gave him a patch that read “Scars are tattoos with better stories.”

They’ve had a special friendship ever since. Kane accompanies Cecily to some of her scans, and Cecily and her mom stay at Kane’s house when she needs to be closer to Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital. The friends enjoy playing the video game Mario Kart. “I always win,” Cecily says with a shy grin.

Edmonton Oiler Evander Kane and Cecily Eklund playing Mario Kart.

“Cecily is battling brain cancer, and if you met her, you wouldn’t know,” Kane said in an interview with Sportsnet last fall. “She’s just such an incredible human being because while she’s going through all these things, she does so much and uses up so much of her own time to give back.”

Since they met, Kane has had his young friend’s back in more ways than one. After Cecily was taunted and spat on by Los Angeles Kings fans for wearing his jersey at an Oilers game in Los Angeles, he posted about it on Instagram. Many sympathetic fans responded with support by donating to the Stelter fund.

Today Cecily calls herself a brain-cancer survivor and “childhood cancer awareness warrior,” but she is still followed closely by her team at the children’s hospital. When asked for advice on successful fundraising, she emphasizes the importance of generosity. “You don’t get poor by giving,” Cecily says. “Because you always get something back, one way or another.”

Next, read about a 15-year-old who opened an art gallery for youth.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada