According to Japanese legend, anyone who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted one wish.
The folks at the Morris County Arts Workshop (MCAW) have co-opted that legend and are hoping to produce 1,000 origami angels for Sarah Stover, the 14-year-old freshman at West Morris Mendham High School who has been battling follicular lymphoma since August.
"Our wish, obviously, is for Sarah to be cured," said Jane Shatz, executive director of MCAW.
The angels for Sarah are an extension of the origami wish project that Shatz began last year. The origami public art piece at the Chester Springs Mall titled "Thousand Flights" was made using 1,000 origami cranes folded by Cathy Ring to aid those suffering in Japan as a result of the 2011 disaster.
According to MCAW Program Director Christine Pennisi, who is familiar with the Stover family through their work at MCAW and friendships in the Chester School District, the decision was made to amend the concept from cranes to angels.
"When Sarah Stover became ill in August 2012, I thought of this amazing Japanese tradition of 1,000 cranes, but instead replacing the cranes with angels because of the faith and comfort Sarah derives from them," Pennisi said. "We also ask that each angel be signed by its creator and have a healing wish noted on the back of it."
On Aug. 14, Sarah Stover awoke with a huge mass in her throat and neck, a growth that happened just overnight. According to her mother, Berit, it was originally believed to be some kind of abscess, but it soon became clear that it was a lymphoma.
Due to the difficulty of the biopsy procedure to remove the lymph node in her neck, Sarah was scheduled for emergency surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York.
It was during the long wait that day that Sarah, while being prepped for the operating room with a warming blanket on top of her, asked the nurse if she could draw.
"Sarah has always had a love for art and drawing," Berit Stover said. "So with permission to draw with the purple surgical pen on the warming blanket that covered her, she created a world that she loved. It was one filled with her next to her horses and beloved Golden Retriever, Sommer, under a sky radiant with angels. The nurse waiting with us remarked how incredibly calm Sarah seemed for the unusually long, almost eight-hour wait."
That image on the warming blanket is now on display at the new MCAW storefront in the Chester Springs Mall in the spot that formerly housed Blue Tulip. Berit Stover said her daughter had studied art at the Interlochen Camp for the Arts and had planned to attend a special art program in Ireland since art is both a passion for her and outlet for her imagination.
"The nurse waiting with us remarked how incredibly calm Sarah seemed for the unusually long, almost eight-hour wait," Berit Stover said.
After the surgery, the diagnosis came back almost immediately that the growth was malignant and the diagnosis was a very rare form of follicular lymphoma.
"We were advised that there are only about 25 children diagnosed with this cancer worldwide each year and that she would need to undergo an aggressive weekly chemotherapy treatment over the next six months," Berit Stover said. "The doctors were encouraged with the outcome, noting that without a young kidney, a patient could not survive these powerful drugs. Luckily, Sarah is 14 and it seems that we caught this cancer early, as it has not yet spread to her bones."
According to her mother, Sarah began a weekly regiment of chemo treatments in New York with all of the nausea and sensations that come with it.
"Despite losing her beautiful, long red hair and dealing with all of the side effects," Berit Stover said, "Sarah had kept her incredible positive spirit and sense of humor."
Sarah has been home-schooled due to her weakened immune system, but her mother says the support her daughter and family have received since the diagnosis is humbling.
"We are surrounded with an incredible circle of love and support from family and friends. Our friend Cathy Ellman of Chester set Sarah up on a special website (Team Berit Stover/Password sarahsangels) to share her journey through a blog and photos," Berit Stover said. "We are heartened by everyone’s messages, prayers and support from so many corners of the world and are very blessed to live in such an incredible community. I truly believe that nothing is a coincidence and I tell Sarah that this is just one experience that will shape her."
The 1,000 angel program has also touched the Stovers.
"We are all gifts to one another and the power of love that everyone has shown Sarah and our family has lifted our souls and will heal her. Our friend Christine Pennisi shared with us her wish to create a thousand origami angels to grant a wish for healing according to ancient Japanese legend," Stover said. "I feel that it is just another way that our community has so generously come together to give hope."
With a little over two weeks remaining until the Jan. 4 deadline, the project is still in search of 800 more angels.
Those wishing to send in angels can follow the instructional video or the PDF diagram attached to this story and can drop off creations at the storefront in the Chester Springs Shopping Center, or the MCAW table at the Bragg School. For those out of the area, mail angels to MCAW, 95 West Main St., Chester, NJ 07930.
"The 'Thousand Angels' remind us of the power of positive thinking. And how when we pool this abundance of love and good energies, we can conquer any challenge," Berit Stover said. "Even a cancer as rare as Sarah’s."