Most of this blog is geared toward promoting Banner Elk bed and breakfasts, specifically Banner Haven, but sometimes things catch my eye and have nothing to do with promoting anything and that’s what this is about.  I read this in the newspaper and just had to share it with everyone.

From the Watauga Democrat, originally published: 2012-04-23

634 beads of courage

by Sherrie Norris


Four months ago, young Brady Bakken was living the life of a typical adolescent boy — full of energy and doing those things that young boys do, especially if they had anything at all to do with the Steelers, the Tarheels or NASCAR.

Life suddenly changed on Jan. 27 for the 11-year-old when he and his family received news that he had Stage 3 Burkitt’s Lymphoma.

The diagnosis came following the removal of “an abnormally large lymph node on his neck that had not previously responded to antibiotic treatment,” said his mother, Tiffani Bakken.

The Bakkens were left reeling in shock from the news that has since placed them on an unexpected emotional — and physically-draining — rollercoaster ride.

A fifth-grader at Valle Crucis Elementary School, Brady is currently in the care of physicians at Wake Forest Brenners Children’s Hospital in Winston Salem, where he is receiving intensive chemotherapy.

On Sunday, Apr. 15, Brady was happy to return home after his most recent hospitalization, and remains under the watchful eyes of his parents, due to concerns with white blood count levels. His pain varies, as does the nausea and other side affects from his treatments.

In the meantime, Brady has tolerated it all well and has become a local celebrity, of sorts, with more calls, cards and visits than he can count — and more than 9,000 hits on his Caringbridge website.

“Brady has read every single message he has received,” his mother said. “He loves them all and looks forward to reading them everyday. We can’t thank everyone enough for taking the time to write on this site and on his new Facebook. This may seem like a really small thing, but his spirits are lifted each time he reads them.”

Another effort that has deeply impacted Brady and his family is that of Brady’s Beads of Courage program.

“It has helped Brady tell his story,” Tiffani said “and when he is done with all of this, the beads will help him always remember his journey.”

His mother describes the program as one that helps kids dealing with serious illness be able to mark their milestones and procedures with something as simple as a bead.

“Whether these events are spinal taps, antibiotics, pokes, blood transfusions, nights spent in the hospitals, acts of bravery, chemo or just gloomy days that need to be brightened, they all count” she said.

Brady has beads that represent his hair loss. He received a bead for being brave when he had to ride in an ambulance all the way Winston-Salem in a snowstorm.

He also has “bumpy” beads that symbolize the bumps in the road that he has hit so far.

“For example, he has a big ‘bumpy bead’ for the time he got a blood infection and had a fever for 10 days straight, Tiffani said. “All together, he has 624 beads — all sorts of shapes and sizes and colors.”

More importantly, she said, “Each bead is a memory of strength.”

Brady has a lot of “courage” beads that have been given to him with the hope that they will, indeed, bring him the courage he needs to fight his battle, she said. “His favorite bead is the ‘fight like a tiger’ bead that was given to him by a family friend. Another one of his favorites came just last weekend from an artist who donates to the Beads of Courage program.

“Her name is Elizabeth Bunn, and she made Brady a Steelers bead that he loves,” Tiffani said. “I feel that Brady can read these beads like a book that will someday have a happy ending. He loves to hold his beads. Sometimes, if he has a headache, he will close his eyes and hold one of his beads up to his head. They mean a lot to him, and he is able to bravely approach his procedures, because he knows he will get a bead in the end.”

Brady has taken the program to a new level after he had the idea to lend some of his beads to someone in the armed forces who was being deployed.

“He thinks men and women who fight for our country have more courage than anyone,” Tiffani said. “His idea was that by giving the beads to this person to carry while being deployed, some of their courage would rub off on the beads and when they are given back to him, that he will have even more courage.”

SPC. Robert Lee Moore took some of Brady’s beads when he was deployed to Afghanistan last month.
Brady is not the only one collecting beads. His little sister, Peyton, who is 6, is collecting “Sibling Beads.”

“Peyton was in kindergarten at Valle Crucis Elementary when Brady was diagnosed,” Tiffani said. “At the request of Brady’s doctors to decrease the chances of him contracting germs that would further affect his weakened immune system, she stopped going to school and started doing homeschooling.

“She has gone on every trip to the hospital with Brady, and been by his side the entire time,” Tiffani said. “Peyton has 83 beads so far and has rewarded hers for various things, like the sacrifices she makes for her brother and the acts of kindness that she does.

Brady’s five siblings, three brothers and two sisters, have all stepped up to show their love and support to Brady during this battle.

Currently, there is a competition in progress at Valle Crucis called “The Brady Bead Challenge,” through which Valle Crucis students draw a picture of what they think will help a cancer patient go through their battles.

Five winners will ultimately be chosen and will have their drawings replicated into beads.
“These beads will be given to children’s hospitals in North Carolina where these beads will go to cancer patients like Brady who participate in the Beads program,” Tiffani said.

Mid-week, the Bakkens are hoping and praying that Brady will get to stay at home for the entire week without complications, his mother said. “He is expected to go back next Monday to start his fifth round of chemo.”

The treatments will be postponed if his blood count is still low. “He has been through so much already, we just hope that he will be able to proceed on schedule, Tifanni said. “The sooner he gets chemo the sooner Brady can kick cancer’s butt.”

On behalf of her son and her entire family, Tiffani expresses deep appreciation for everything that has been done for them, so far. “We want everyone to know that every letter and dime and meal and prayer is very much appreciated. It is such a blessing to be able to depend on others.”

One message she has for other parents is simple, yet profound  — “Don’t forget to hug your kids.”
The Beads of Courage is a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Ariz., with a mission to provide innovative arts-in-medicine programs for children coping with serious illness, their families and the healthcare providers who care for them.

For more information, call (520) 344-7668, email ( , visit , or twitter .


Thank you very much for a wonderful article Sherrie.  I hope it inspires others, as it has me.

Banner Haven B&B and Cabin Rentals
A Banner Elk North Carolina Bed and Breakfast
Innkeepers – Greg and Amy Gardner
509 Beech Mountain Parkway
Banner Elk, NC 28604

Rates starting at $55 per night (including breakfast)