Four years ago, Lora Scantling released a snapshot that went viral of three small-town Oklahoma girls with cancer. The photographer has gathered the courageous group together every year since to replicate their photo shoot and celebrate that they are now cancer-free.
This year, though, she’s added a new face to the mix: Three-year-old Connor Lloyd, of Oklahoma City, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last year.
Scantling, 34, who runs a photography studio in Yukon, has taken photos of Connor’s family for six years and was devastated when she learned about his cancer diagnosis in December.
She asked his mother, Leah Lloyd, “Would you like me to take some pictures of him? Sometimes you never know how much time you have.”
Rylie, Rheann, Connor and Ainsley
Leah immediately said yes. “Before our son was diagnosed, we didn’t think this could happen to us,” she tells PEOPLE. “We’re now hoping to increase research and document Connor’s story so that when he’s older he can look back and know where he came from.”
Because the girls in the viral photo are now in remission, “people have kind of forgotten what the original purpose of the picture was for — to draw attention to kids who are fighting cancer,” adds Lora. “Connor will be in treatment for another three years, and yet he’s always so happy and brave. Just like the girls, he’s an inspiration.”
Profiled by PEOPLE last year, Rheann Franklin, now 10, Ainsley Peters, now 8 and Rylie Hughey, 7, have much to celebrate.
“They’re all doing well and are happy and full of life,” Lora tells PEOPLE. She met the girls in 2014 after she put out a Facebook post offering to do a special photo shoot of any little girls who were diagnosed with cancer.
The girls in 2017 holding their original photo from 2014
“They’re like family now and I hope to keep taking photos of all their biggest milestones for the rest of their lives,” she says.
At this year’s photo shoot, the girls warmly welcomed Connor and sang “You Are My Sunshine” to help him to relax.
“Watching the girls interact with him was amazing — they took turns showing off their scars to make him feel more comfortable,” says Bridget Hughey, Rylie’s mom, of Chandler, Oklahoma.
Rylie, who was 2 when she was diagnosed with kidney cancer, is now active and healthy with a new mantra: “Cancer messed with the wrong princess.”
“The odds were definitely against her, but she won the battle,” Bridget tells PEOPLE. “Now that our girls are better, it’s our turn to take care of those who are beginning their battles. Adding Connor to the photo helps tell viewers that we have yet to win the war against childhood cancer.”
Rheann, who was treated for a rare form of brain cancer, will always have eyes that droop and will never see her hair grow back, says her mother, Valerie Franklin of Norman, Oklahoma, “but she’s a happy, goofy, fun-loving little girl.”
“The picture this year means a lot to us,” she tells PEOPLE, “because it helps highlight that yes, the girls are doing great, but childhood cancer is still out there. Rheann loves her friends and wants to help anyone in need.”
Ainsley, who once had the same type of leukemia that Connor was diagnosed with, is now a second-grader who enjoys singing and acting and recently decided to have her ears pierced, “even though she said she never wanted needles to pierce her again,” says her mother, Andrea Peters, of Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“She is a warrior and will continue to work to spread awareness about cancer in children,” says Andrea. “She loves to show compassion to those around her. We’re both honored to be part of the bigger picture.”
This year, the girls are shown wearing lace dresses and purple floral headbands as they embrace Connor, who beams in a pale blue shirt.
“Connor is responding well to treatment and is doing much better than anyone expected,” says Lora, “and we’re hoping that will continue. Seeing him laughing and smiling with the girls melted my heart. I’ll keep taking this photo every year for as long as they want me to. They’re inspiring to all of us.”