3 Young Cancer Survivors Pose for New Photos, 3 Years After Viral Image Touched Hearts Around the World
Rheann Franklin, 9, Ainsley Peters, 7, and 6-year-old Rylie Hughey posed side-by-side in a powerful image 3 years ago, and have reunited every year since.
Three years after posing for a photo that tugged at heartstrings around the world, these three little cancer survivors from Oklahoma are showing everyone just how far they've come.
Rheann Franklin, now 9, Ainsley Peters, 7, and 6-year-old Rylie Hughey posed side-by-side in a powerful image three years ago, and have reunited every year since.
This year, the trio met up for another photo shoot and to celebrate being cancer-free.
"With everything in the world that's so cruddy, it's really inspiring to see something like this," photographer Lora Scantling told InsideEdition.com.
Rylie, Rheann and Ainsley pose together in February 2017. (Lora Scantling Photography)
Scantling first decided to get the girls — then strangers — together in 2014.
"My stepdad was battling lung cancer at the time and I wanted to do something that would touch people," she said, explaining that she hoped to raise awareness about how cancer affects lives. "I knew that taking a photo of children — that would be one of those pictures that would draw emotion."
So she wrote a Facebook post asking for any little girls battling cancer to join a special photo shoot.
"These three showed up," she said. "It took 10 seconds and they were the best of friends. They walked in and saw the bald heads and they were like, 'She's just like me.' They all just knew."
The girls pose together for the first time in 2014. (Lora Scantling Photography)
Rylie, then 3, had just been declared cancer-free but her hair had not grown back, while the other two were not yet in remission. Rheann, then 6, was especially ill.
"Rheann still had cancer all through her body — in her spine, in her brain," Scantling recalled. "We weren't sure she was going to make it through. A year before, they were planning her services."
A few months after the photo shoot, she got a phone call from Rheann's mother, and Scantling said she feared the worst. But it was just the opposite.
"It was gone," Scantling said. "Something happened and she was declared cancer-free."
After the first photo shoot, Ainsley also beat the disease.
While the girls were in and out of hospital visits and treatments, their photo had gone viral.
"I didn't expect it to go crazy, but it spread like wildfire," Scantling said.
But she understands why it has inspired so many people.
"A child shouldn't feel pain. A kid should be a kid," she said. "When you see a kid hurting that hard... but to see all three together... I think people hadn't seen things like that before."
Months after the photo shoot, the Today show learned that the girls were all cancer-free and asked if they would pose for a new picture to celebrate — and their yearly tradition was born.
The girls in 2015. (Lora Scantling Photography)
They pose with the original photo in 2016. (Lora Scantling Photography)
Over the years, Scantling says the girls have become healthier and more energetic.
"The girls consider themselves best friends," she said. "They know they've done something the world has seen. Rheann says, 'I know I'm famous.'"
At the most recent photo shoot, the girls looked stronger than ever. Rylie and Ainsley don't have any long-lasting effects of their illnesses, but due to her treatments, Rheann's hair will not grow back and her eyes will always droop because of the tumor on her brain stem, Scantling said.
Next year, Scantling, who works with Ally's House, an Oklahoma-based cancer foundation for children, plans to get the girls together for more photos.
"People still ask how they are doing. So many people around the world follow them," Scantling said. "People are already sharing this photo, saying, 'Look they are doing good, look how big they've grown.'"
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