Video: Cancer victim leaving legacy for daughter

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/3/2005 11:50:00 AM ET 2005-08-03T15:50:00

In a Connecticut living room, a mother and daughter dance against a backdrop of family history and the mother's hopes for her child — in notes, tapes, books, cards, CDs and so many photos.

Why?

Because how much will Halle Wagner actuallyremember from age 3? Will she remember what she did? What she learned? Who taught her? And who made her smile?

Halle's mother, Joelle, is — there's no other way to say it — in end-stage breast cancer.

"The percentages went from 80 to 70 to 20 to now... zero," says Joelle.

But when she got her diagnosis two years ago she continued reading to Halle.

"Because that was something I could do, ’cause it was quiet," she says.

She began writing, too. A thousand margin notes, and cards, and intimate reminders. And then she thought, "Why not give this to other people as a way of connecting, keeping a bond with their children when everything else is falling apart?"

Hence, the "Light One Little Candle" foundation, a book drive spreading nationwide for the thousands of parents and children in cancer's grip.

Not books about dealing with cancer, and death ... just books. It's a different approach, says Joelle's doctor.

"The legacy that she leaves is not just for her child, but for all of us," says Dr. Andrew Salner with the Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital.

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Joelle has not surrendered yet. She fills her days compiling cards for every occasion in a girl's life. Things like: Advice — "Please, no tattoos!"; favorite singers and movies and books; and detailed journals on paper and on video.

"Don't let Daddy skimp out on you if you get married, on your wedding video. Go all out," she says on one of the videos.

She knows all this will likely be too much for Halle to ingest, perhaps for decades. But Joelle, a psychiatrist, is only controlling what she can control: How she uses what time she has to anticipate any of her daughter's future questions.

"I don't need to be in her daily thoughts. I just want her to have that stuff, to have the option," says Joelle.

The decision about how much to give to Halle, and when, will be made by the rest of the family, especially husband Peppi, also a doctor.

In the meantime, Joelle fills her days with Halle dancing and sharing this life.

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