A 5-year-old whose photo with her grandfather touched the hearts of people all over the world has died of an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Braylynn Lawhon of Gulf Breeze, Fla., was diagnosed Dec. 6 with a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma tumor shortly before her fifth birthday. She died Monday.
The brain cancer most commonly affects children ages 5 to 10 and is always fatal.
“Princess Braylynn has left us,” the child’s mother, Ally Parker, posted Monday evening on Facebook. “She can finally enter her kingdom. She fought so hard for so long; she exceeded everyone’s expectations. I will post funeral arrangements once they have been made.”
A photo that Braylynn’s mom took in early January showed the child’s grandfather, Sean Peterson of Gulf Breeze crying beside Braylynn as she lay on a hospital bed at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart in Pensacola.
“Tears were coming out and this horrible noise was coming out, but that’s all he could do,” Beth Peterson-Hickman, Braylynn’s grandmother and Peterson’s ex-wife, said a week ago. “I had to turn around. I thought maybe it upset him because I know he hasn’t wanted me to see him like this.”
The 49-year-old Peterson himself has been fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the past two years and can no longer speak or swallow because of the disease.
“He hopes that one day, the two of them will be sitting on the couch together again, watching My Little Pony,” Parker told NBC’s Today show.
News sites shared the photo, which led to an outpouring of support for the family. Well-wishers sent donations, gifts, clothes and meals to Braylynn and her family, according to the child’s grandmother.
“She’s gotten five or six Belle dresses mailed to her from complete strangers because we want to bury her in a Belle dress,” Peterson-Hickman said. “They’ve sent tiaras and slippers and little gloves and all kinds of stuff to her.”
She said she had nicknamed Braylynn “Belle” from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast before her birth because the girl’s initials were B-E-L.
“It’s a true hell on earth. I feel helpless,” Peterson-Hickman, told People magazine.. “I’m trying to stay strong for my family.”
The family had been trying to raise money through GoFundMe for surgery from a specialist in North Carolina and now is finalizing arrangements for a princess-themed funeral.