BONDURANT, Iowa -- September is an extremely difficult month for a family from Bondurant. The month brings about many emotions, including overwhelming grief. In their grief, they try to help others because it was Ava's way.
We first met Ava Hutchinson in 2016 when she talked about her simple request for her birthday. She told Channel 13 Sports Director Keith Murphy, "Just cards, and I want people to donate to Children's Cancer Connection."
She also talked about plans for her birthday bash. "There's going to be a dunk tank, apples, a petting zoo, a cotton candy machine, DJ with a dance floor,” she said.
She arrived to her 11th birthday in a limo to a cheering crowd. Mom Joni Hutchinson said, "She just had an inner sparkle that would light up a room."
Ava didn't make it to her next birthday. “Ava was so much. She was such a big light in this world, and we usually we start the story with cancer. Ava was diagnosed with cancer when she was 2, but I`ve gotten to the point where she was more than that,” said Joni.
Ava was born Sept. 13, 2005. “She was strength, she was courage, and sass and fun and sparkles. But, she was diagnosed with cancer when she was two, 28 months, in January of 2008. She had a brain tumor. She went through all kinds of horrible things for a year. And we were ending her treatment, and it came back,” said Joni.
After another year of even harsher treatment, Ava lived cancer free for seven years. “She found a way to have a good life, even though she had to take medications every day and have surgeries on her ears and her eyes because of the treatments. She had learning struggles, but she found a way to make the most of every day."
The cancer returned in July 2016. This time there was nothing doctors could do. Joni said, “She lived 14 more months. I`m dumbfounded it even happened. I still wake up every morning, and it`s like a living nightmare. I`m like, how did that happen? How is she gone? That`s the hardest thing.”
Ava died Sept. 11, 2017. Her family now hosts a blood drive every year in her memory. “We`re up to 1,000 lives saved in three years and that helps. It keeps me busy, too,” said Joni.
Joni also started a blog called “Living Ava's Way” to keep her sparkle alive. Joni said, “She had so many obstacles in her life, and she never let those obstacles hold her back. She found a way, and one of those ways was making everything beautiful.”
“That`s what Ava`s way is. No matter how hard life is, no matter how many obstacles are, don`t let excuses hold you back. Go,” she said. “It`s that life isn`t always perfect, but it can still be wonderful,” said Joni.