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Girl’s illness leads mom to write children’s book about cancer

Hopeful work is available online, with copies going to library, hospital


After finding out that her then 9-year-old daughter had leukemia, Elizabeth Billups went into her kids’ bedroom and collapsed on the bed. She stared into the darkness as glow-in-the-dark stars illuminated the ceiling.

“I had an epiphany,” said Billups, a mother of three young girls who lives in Highlands Ranch. “You can only see stars when you are in the dark.”

The theme of finding light in times of darkness is significant in her children’s book, “The Puddle Jumper’s Guide to Kicking Cancer,” which was released on Dec. 12. Billups started working on the book two years ago, when her middle child, Gracie, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-progressing type of blood cancer.

In October 2015, Billups and her husband, Val, took Gracie to the doctor for a persistent high fever. Twelve hours later, she had a blood transfusion. She spent nine nights at Childrens Hospital Colorado in Aurora. For the next 2 1/2 years, she would endure 11 blood transfusions, daily and weekly chemo, 15 spinal taps, intramuscular shots and endless nausea. She finishes treatment in February 2018, which will be followed by monthly blood drawings for the next five years.

“It’s a world that I wasn’t aware of that is awful but wonderful, in that medicine does great things,” said Billups. “But the process is so difficult.”

To learn about her family’s road ahead, Billups turned to books, but the confusing terms and tedious language were difficult to digest. So she decided to write her own. The pages are colorful, the language is simple and the storyline is candid.

Billups, with the help of Gracie, her youngest daughter Sophie and her husband, wrote the book to inform, comfort and give hope to children and adults dealing with cancer in themselves or a loved one. She spent two years writing and illustrating her book, which is told through Gracie’s eyes. She wrote and illustrated from hospital rooms, sitting next to her daughter.

“To make it easier to get some of my chemo, my doctor put a special gadget under my skin called a ‘port,’” the book reads. “My nurses are able to put chemo straight into my blood through this port. It’s kinda like filling up a jug of water with a hose. The port is just under my skin, below the front of my shoulder.”

There is a glossary in the back, along with pages for the reader to write their accomplishments and struggles. The positive recollections Billups refers to as “star moments.”

“It’s the book I wish we had when she got diagnosed,” said Billups. “We couldn’t find any book that honored the struggle and yet was hopeful.”

The book “equips and encourages” people navigating the world of cancer, said Dr. Thomas Smith, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, in a media release.

“What a wonderful, thought-provoking and uplifting book,” Smith said in the release. “The information in this book will provide comfort, compassion and understanding to children, whether they or someone they love are fighting cancer.”

Billups is selling her book on Amazon and www.barnsandnoble.com. She matched the first 40 she sold and plans to donate copies to childrens hospitals. She also plans to give a copy to James H. LaRue Library in Highlands Ranch and the library at Childrens Hospital Colorado.

Her goal is to help those with cancer feel less alone in the fight.

“I don’t think it helps anyone to act like it’s not hard — I try to be as real as possible,” she said. “In general, if you’re in it or if you care about someone who is in it, the key is to do it together.”


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