Correction: Earlier versions of this article incorrectly identified one of the children who died while the film was being made. This version has been corrected.
Along with her maroon graduation gown, Taylor Klein planned to wear her most prized possession when she accepted her diploma from Broad Run High School on Sunday night — a blue-and-yellow bracelet honoring her neighbor, a little girl who fought two different cancers before she turned 5.
That girl, Taylor Love, now 7 years old and in the third grade, inspired the Ashburn teen to spend a large part of her senior year making a documentary about pediatric cancer.
The film, “The Truth 365,” earned three regional Emmy nominations this spring. Klein hopes it, and a corresponding social media campaign, will raise awareness about the need for more research and funding for the 13,500 children and adolescents in the United States who receive a cancer diagnosis every year.
“Most people don’t know about childhood cancer, and most people don’t want to know about it,” she said. “This movie is really sad. But the message needs to be out there.”
About 80 percent of children survive and live without cancer for at least five years, but many later get secondary cancers or have side effects caused by harsh treatment regimens.
Mike Gillette, a filmmaker who led the project, met Klein through the Love family and recruited her to help with the film.
Together they traveled as far as New York and Florida and interviewed about 50 children who have survived cancer or are living with it and talked with their family members.
In recorded hour-long conversations, kids opened up about the “yucky medicine,” or the teasing that happens when people lose their hair, or the fears of getting “sicker and sicker.”
An 11-year-old named Trevor wondered how his sister would handle it if he didn’t make it.
A 10-year-old boy named Jack asked, “Is it going to go away, or is it going to keep coming and coming?”
Three children died in the time it took to make the film.
The film describes how a successful effort to pass legislation in 2008 to dedicate more money for pediatric cancer research never got fully funded. It includes interviews with Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), whose daughter recovered from a malignant brain tumor diagnosed when she was 3.
Klein, who sings and plays guitar, met Love her freshman year, when some friends invited her to take part in a concert at a Starbucks to help the Ashburn family pay down medical bills.
Klein remembers meeting a “cute little girl” who was “just growing her blond hair back.”
The two girls had the same first and middle names — Taylor Nicole. They were almost exactly 10 years apart and lived a few blocks from each other, but they had very different childhoods. Love was given a neuroblastoma diagnosis at 18 months. It took about three years of treatment before tests showed no sign of the cancer. Less than a year later, she learned she had leukemia, probably caused by the chemotherapy.
After more chemotherapy and a stem-cell transfer, Love was confined to her house. Klein and another friend would come over with their guitars and sing for her.
As Love grew stronger, Klein kept coming to visit. She said she will keep in touch, even when she goes off to Radford University, where she wants to study biology and pre-med courses.
“I don’t know what kind of doctor I want to be as long as I can work with kids with cancer,” she said.