GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Olivia Barlow and Natalie Harvey have a few things in common. They are both 13, they are stepsisters, and for the last ten months, they have both been battling the same type of bone cancer. Now, they can both add being in remission to that list.
Olivia and Natalie were diagnosed last year just five weeks apart. After spending the last six months at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the girls are now both in remission. The 13-year-old girls were treated to a surprise party Friday to celebrate.
The day started off like any other until the white limousine pulled up to their house. The girls were excited but thought they were just going with friends for a scenic cruise across South Mississippi.
Before making its way back to their house, the limo had one more surprise stop. Dozens of their loved ones awaited them at Salute Italian and Seafood Restaurant in Gulfport. The girls climbed out of the limousine, each of them surprised and smiling from ear to ear.
“We stepped out of the limo and they were all cheering and they handed us necklaces and they just kind of told us a little about everything," said Natalie. “It was a good moment."
She wasn’t alone in her shock. Her sister Olivia was also blown away by the effort.
“I couldn’t believe it," said Olivia. “It is just amazing and I am very grateful.”
The girls say they are both so thankful for all of the love and support they’ve received from family, friends, and the community. They are also very grateful for each other.
“It was really great because we both had someone that knew exactly what we were going through," said Natalie. “We’re the same age so we understood each other more. It really has brought us more together and closer."
While Olivia would never wish her burden on anyone else, much less her own sister, she takes solace in the fact that the struggle has drawn them closer.
“It was hard sometimes because she is my sister but I feel like it has definitely made us closer and we can understand each other a lot more in different ways than other people can,” said Olivia.
The journey has been challenging but the girls and their loved ones are still reveling after some recent good news.
“We have had a long ten months," said Celeste Barlow Spencer, the girls’ aunt. “This celebration is to honor them and their remission. They have been in remission now since... Olivia has been in remission since May and Natalie has been in remission since June. So we are just so blessed the community has come out. Our friends and family are here and we are able to celebrate the girls."
The celebration was made possible by Pink Heart Funds and the charity’s founder JoAn Niceley. JoAn was once diagnosed with cancer herself and knows firsthand how important it is to inspire, encourage and restore hope to those still battling the disease.
“It is always exciting," said JoAn. “This, to me, is the most important part of Pink Heart Funds. It is not just about giving out wigs and breast prosthetics. It is about making these girls feel important again."
Over 20 businesses from across South Mississippi were happy to help JoAn and Pink Heart Funds with that goal, donating gifts and services to make the event possible.
“I think the one thing that makes it all worthwhile is when you see the smiling faces of the girls and you know this is a great moment in their life,” said Rob Stinson, the owner of Salute.
Stinson hosted the event at his restaurant free of charge and even helped the girls cut the cake. He was one of many business owners who stepped up to make Natalie’s and Olivia’s day so special.
The girls received wigs, clothes, jewelry, and most importantly, an afternoon they will always cherish.