Enduring rounds and rounds of chemotherapy as a kid can take a physical, mental, and emotional toll on their health. Four-year-old Grace Bumstead, diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, has evolved into a fighter with the help of “chemo Barbie” Ella, at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she faces 18 months of high doses of chemotherapy. Grace’s mom, Melissa Bumstead, witness to the power the “beautiful and bald” doll had on her daughter, quickly contacted Mattel to produce more dolls for young cancer patients.
Grace was one of the patients to be given one of six dolls available at the hospital. When Bumstead was told not every cancer patient is able to adopt an Ella doll, due to limited quantities, the tenacious mother created a petition on change.org to have Mattel make more dolls. “If the pain that we’re going through right now can help someone else, it makes it feel like it’s worth it,” said Bumstead to KCBS-TV.
Originally, the petition formally asked Mattel to create and sell a Beautiful and Bald Barbie, with accessories such as wigs, head wraps, scarves, or hats. Bumstead emphasized girls who experience hair loss due to cancer treatments, Alopecia, or Trichotillomania, feel their hair loss makes them “less beautiful and less like a princess.” The campaign caught on quickly. As every 10 minutes passed, there were 1,000 signatures. By March, more than 100,000 people were able to urge the company to produce more dolls.
Kids like Grace will know they are beautiful even without hair with the help of Ella. Mattel has decided to make the dolls annually, meaning every year hospitals, charities, and foundations will receive a new supply of Ella Barbies to give out. The first wave of Ella dolls are expected out in August.
The doll has helped convey the realities of treatment for the 4-year-old, Bumstead told KHON-TV, as one of the one of the hardest adjustments for Grace was losing her blonde curls. "When they first met, she's like, 'OK, I get what's going on.' But it gave us the chance to say, 'Here's a beautiful, smiling doll. It doesn't have hair,'" Bumstead said. “We bring [Ella] along everywhere to say, ‘This is what’s happening. This is what’s happened to Ella. This is what’s gonna happen to you.’ It brought it to her level,” she added.
Grace and young cancer patients may experience psychosocial effects during and after treatment. Typically, families tend to focus on the daily aspects of getting through the treatment and beating cancer, but at the conclusion, emotional concerns may start to show, according to the American Cancer Society. Treatment can either help childhood cancer survivors have a clearer set of priorities and establish strong personal values, or it can provide them with a hard time to recover and adjust to life after cancer.
Bumstead’s daughter still has more chemotherapy to endure at such a young age, but her oncologist said she has a 75 percent chance of being cured. Dolls like Ella, help her and other children come to terms with their disease. “We really believe that God is going to use this to do good things in her life and to make her the kind of person that she’s going to fight for good things all of her life,” Bumstead said.