HESPERIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Her mom says Aubree Hamilton, a middle child sandwiched between two boys, used to be just like her brothers — rowdy. These days, she’s a little quieter and subdued.
Chemotherapy will do that to a 5-year-old.
“The strength that I see from her has taught me that the strength I believed I had was not true strength,” Aubree’s mom Bryanna Hamilton of Hesperia said.
Aubree went to the hospital for side pain on Jan. 9. Doctors saw a mark on her kidney in the CAT scan and decided to do an MRI. Her mom remembers imagining it was just an injury of some sort.
What doctors found was much worse: a diffuse anaplastic Wilms tumor. Simply put: kidney cancer.
“It’s pretty much the worst diagnosis, but it’s still very curable and has a very good outcome,” Hamilton said.
By Jan. 11, doctors had removed Aubree’s kidney. By the 22nd, she began her first of 42 weeks of chemotherapy with consecutive days of radiation months ahead.
“It’s been hard, but we try to stay positive and bring the most positive experiences to her to show her that you’ve got to remain hopeful and you can’t let it knock you down,” Hamilton said.
After her daughter’s surgery, Hamilton called some friends. Last spring, she was in the police academy. As this spring approached, facing a new difficult test, she called the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office. She was hoping they would let Aubree sit in their cruiser.
A deputy came to visit in a cruiser and left behind something that made an even greater impact: a uniform patch.
“The way her eyes lit up when she saw the patch, I knew that we had to collect more,” Hamilton said. “I never thought it would get as big as it is, but she still wants more. So that’s what we’re going for.”
What started as one patch has grown to well over 620. There’s still a handful uncounted and more coming.
That’s thanks in part to Trooper Maxwell Nichols and the Michigan State Police.
“That’s why I wanted to become a police officer, was to help people,” Nichols said. “Specifically kids. I’m just glad I get to help her.”
Troopers from the Hart and Rockford posts dropped off patches in January. Then, the MSP social media pages put out a post asking for departments all over to send Aubree more.
“Let’s work together and let Aubree know she is not alone in her battle. Any law enforcement agency that would like to send their department patch to Aubree can mail them to,” the post read, followed by the address to the MSP Rockford location.
The response has been incredible. Patches have arrived by the boxful from all corners of Michigan beyond, including New York, Los Angeles, Germany and even Australia.
“She has people from all over the world sending her gifts and following her on her Facebook page, especially the law enforcement,” Hamilton said. “It’s nice to see that the people that I still consider my brothers and sisters go above and beyond the call of duty to support somebody that they don’t even know.”
“I have kids myself, I have three young kids,” Nichols said. “I just think, you know, what if my son or one of my daughters had a sickness or cancer or anything? It’s something that I would want the community to help out and pitch in, ’cause it takes a community at a time like this to go through it. There’s a lot of hardship.”
Police departments have answered MSP’s call with more than patches. The walls of the Hamilton’s living room are lined with handwritten notes from officers and departments wishing Aubree well and letting her know if nothing else, she has their support. The Troy, Michigan, Police Department even sent a replica Power Wheels police car.
“Do you like it?” Nichols asked Aubree as he delivered the car.
He answered his own question as she sped off without an answer: “I think it’s safe to say she likes it.”
The bond that Nichols and Aubree have formed will last a lifetime — and she will need that support.
While Hamilton says doctors are confident they removed most of the cancer cells when they did the surgery, Aubree won’t be “out of the water” until she’s 21 and even then could have a recurrence.
Her goal is to collect the police patches from all 49 state patrols (Hawaii doesn’t have one). With Alabama’s on its way, she’s just over halfway there.
Of course, beating cancer remains her biggest goal.
MPS says patches can be mailed to them to deliver to Aubree at the following address:
The Michigan State Police Rockford Post
345 Northland Drive NW
Rockford, MI 49341.