The six Wells sisters have done everything together for as long as they can remember. So when one of them — Hope, 23 — was diagnosed with leukemia in 2018, the other five rallied with her as she has waged the fight of her life.
Charity, 25; Faith, 24; Joy, 22; Grace, 20; and Glory, 16, have been by Hope’s side through multiple rounds of treatment, as have their parents, Patricia and the Rev. Michael Wells, a minister at West Philadelphia’s Beulah Baptist Church. They have comforted Hope with devotion, her favorite dishes, and prayers as her doctors have tried to put her disease into remission long enough for her to undergo a bone-marrow transplant.
But this spring, COVID-19 put the brakes on the togetherness that has helped Hope endure. This spring, in two separate hospitalizations in New York and Philadelphia, Hope spent about two months of treatment time pretty much on her own. By the time she was in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in April and early May, she was feeling weak and sick, and her spirits were at a low ebb.
But on one of those days, Hope’s sisters — those mighty sisters — set her up on a group call and coaxed her into clicking on the link to a video they’d sent her. It was called “A Message of Hope for Hope,” and as she watched it, Hope’s weary eyes began to widen.
Words of inspiration and images from people from every corner of her life came pouring forth from her cellphone screen, telling her how much she meant to them.
“I said, ‘What?!? How did you do this?!?’” recalled Hope.
The video was created by her sisters. They had reached out to cousins, family friends, church members, sorority sisters, fraternity friends, college buddies, and more to solicit recorded messages of love and encouragement for Hope. Over 200 participants took part — and those were just the ones who got their messages in by the submission deadline.
“Once I saw that video, I was crying, but I felt so much better,” said Hope, who is now resting in her family’s West Philadelphia home. “I was in a lot of pain when I watched it. But it was a really healing video for me. It made me trust God so much more, and focus on my healing so much more.”
The Wells sisters have always had each others’ backs.
“We’re a Christian family,” mother Patricia, 59, said. “They were raised up in the church, and they’ve always been close and supportive.”
The sisters all attended Beulah Baptist Christian Day School and then The Christian Academy in Brookhaven for high school. As girls, they often dressed alike on holidays, and they still know each other’s friends. In their younger years, when their father was a guest preacher at other churches, the Wells girls would accompany him and sing a cappella for the congregations, as well as at Beulah Baptist.
The sisters say they’ve managed to live up to their names, including Hope.
“We call her the social butterfly,” said Charity, a senior labor and labor relations analyst for the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations. “She’s the social advocate. She’s always been the fearless leader.”
Since being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in October 2018, not long after graduating from La Salle University, Hope has used social media to advocate for more people to join Be The Match, the national registry for potential bone marrow donors. Last summer, she organized a promotion (while undergoing treatment herself) with hair-product companies to encourage marrow testing and donation.
All the Wells sisters have been tested, and Charity was found to be a perfect match for Hope. She’s ready donate her marrow whenever doctors clear Hope for a transplant.
As for the video, it was Joy’s idea, which came to her during a particularly difficult time in Hope’s hospitalization. “Everybody was scared,” said Joy, a Shippensburg University graduate, who wracked her brain for ways to buoy Hope’s spirits.
“I wanted to give her encouragement that she wasn’t fighting this fight alone,” said Joy, “that she has people who admire her, look up to her, love her, that see her as an inspiration because she’s so fearless and strong.”
When she and her sisters put out the call for video participants, the response was swift and enthusiastic.
“I thought it was an awesome idea,” said Joelle Goldston, 23, one of Hope’s Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority line sisters. “She’s going through a lot. She has a huge support system and I just want her to feel love.”
Thomas Lopez, 27, an actor and model, said he met Charity through a church event 10 years ago. Since then, he’s been like an older brother to all the Wells sisters.
“Hope always has had a real zest for life,” he said.
As the videos came in, sister Faith, a Villanova communications graduate, was on her game, editing the individual testimonials into one cohesive piece.
“It was really exciting, just to see the love, good spirits, and care that came from everyone,” said Faith, who was a special projects planner for the city until her position was recently eliminated. “It just made me smile, hearing and creating the video.”
Rev. Wells said the project came along during an especially difficult hospitalization. He said Hope has undergone three clinical trials to treat her disease and hopes to undergo a fourth.
“She’s a fighter,” he said.
During her last hospitalization, said Hope, she learned that the cancer had spread to her spinal fluid. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation for that. Her head ached from migraines. It was hard to eat. She felt weaker than she ever had before. And being hospitalized during a pandemic was so different from pre-pandemic times.
“Your family’s not there watching you. You don’t have that sense of security,” she said. “It can get very scary. All I remember is feeling so sick.”
And then her sisters came up with that video. It was just what she needed.
“I was like, ‘Look at all these people, giving me hope,‘” said Hope. “In that moment, I saw how much I impacted others. It was a dose of medicine of strength, hope, and faith. Any time I was in pain, I was like, let me watch this video.”
She talks about her dreams for the future: being an entrepreneur, and starting her own nonprofit to advocate for and support cancer patients. “There’s so much I want to do,” she said.
But first there’s the leukemia foe to be vanquished. Her sisters’ video has renewed her strength for the battle.
“I still watch it,” Hope said. “I know I’m not alone. I’m not fighting alone.”