HIGHLAND PARK, Illinois - After her father’s cancer diagnosis, a Maryland teenager turned to books for escape. She soon realized her escape could help young patients turn the page after a devastating diagnosis. At just 19 year old, Emily Bhatnagar is the hero of her own story.
"Growing up I was just very shy, and it was very hard for me to make friends so I always turned to books…I always thought, well if books made me happy, maybe they can cheer up a child with cancer," said Bhatnagar.
After her father was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer, the teen, who was born in suburban Highland Park, dedicated her free time to keeping her family’s small Indian bread shop afloat. As time wore on, she realized she could use the tips she made, to help young children find an escape during cancer treatment.
"Anytime we can give a book as a diversionary activity or something special that they can look forward to after a long day of appointments or maybe something they can take to their appointments with them, I think it’s just really special," said Meghan Arbegast-Smith, the volunteer engagement manager with the National Institutes of Health Children’s Inn.
The Inn is a respite for young patients receiving treatment. Bhatnagar donated books and homemade bookmarks to the Children’s Inn for a variety of age groups.
"Their reactions have been the best. I love it. I go to the hospitals and sometimes the children they don't even speak English, but we're able to connect with books," said Bhatnagar.
She called her project "For Love and Buttercup".
"A lot of the kids, when they have a cancer diagnosis, they don't really understand it the way adults can, so it can be really scary and confusing. So it [a book] sort of offers this whimsical escape to a new world," said Bhatnagar.
Since 2021, she’s donated more than 15,000 books. She hopes to bring her charity to Chicago next.
"Just to be as young as she is and giving back and it's really snowballed and grown," said Arbegast-Smith.
Bhatnagar has created an Amazon Wish List full of books that can be purchased and donated.