When Lucy Sharp was going through not one but two harrowing treatments for cancer, it was a playful pair of elephant socks that often brought a smile to her face when the going got tough.
Facing repeat surgeries and chemotherapy to rid her body of the life-threatening Hodgkin's lymphoma, the Auckland schoolgirl would pull on her favourite bright pink ankle socks, the quirky footwear a happy distraction from her many unpleasant medical procedures.
Now celebrating her second year cancer-free, the 17-year-old and her best friend Maddy Niven have come up with an idea that brings a touch of happiness to adolescents facing similar cancer battles in a way that, to them, seems perfectly fitting − selling socks.
The pals have set up Socks For Smiles, a not-for-profit which raises money through the sale of specially-chosen hosiery featuring zany designs to fund gift packs − includinga pair of fun socks − for young cancer patients in hospital.
Lucy, who was first diagnosed at intermediate school, says wearing her colourful socks made all the difference while she was in hospital.
"When I was walking around the ward, whenever I wore unique or funky socks every-one would always comment on them and it was a way of distraction," explains Lucy.
It's an all-too-familiar experience for the year 12 pupil who, just four days before Christmas in 2015, was diagnosed and began multiple rounds of chemo-therapy and surgeries to combat the cancer after a teacher spotted a lump on her neck.
"I was 13 at the time," she tells. "I relapsed roughly a year later in March 2017.
"Because it came back more aggressive the second time, they did four rounds of chemotherapy. In total I had seven rounds of chemo and six surgeries."
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Now brimming with health, the former patient says Socks For Smiles came about because she wanted to do something that would help other adolescents and their families experiencing similar trials.
"Lucy noticed there was a gap where teenagers didn't get as much support, so we decided to focus on ages 12 to 18 for our gifts," says Maddy.
And it was the besties' shared passion for socks that proved to be the inspiration.
"Me and Lucy both love socks," tells Maddy. "They helped Lucy go through her treatment; they gave her a little spark of joy every day. She's got like 400 pairs − I've not got as many, but I've still got a lot − so we decided to use something we enjoyed to help give back to the community.
"We were actually in sports science and that class basically turned into us organising Socks For Smiles. Our teacher thought it was such a cool thing that she let us do it."
Last year, with the gift packages timed to coincide with the Christmas break, the girls raised $500 through online sock sales and at the Parnell Farmers' Market.
And now, thanks to some heavy-hitting support from Dancing with the Stars co-host Sharyn Casey, the judging panel and even glitterball champ Manu Vatuvei, things are really taking off.
The girls are even having to find an extra couple of hours each day on top of school work to keep up with their venture.
"When we started, we thought it would be an easy thing to do, but the time that goes into it is creeping up," admits Lucy.
"We spend at least an hour a day talking about it. Then it's contacting celebrities, organising the theme of the socks, organising the photoshoots, everything."
But the pair agree it's all worthwhile when they receive messages telling them how much difference the care packages are making to those in the fight for their lives.
"A patient's sister messaged me after we had given packs to her siblings and younger brother, who has leukaemia, saying how he'd had a rough day, and having that pair of socks and gift pack really helped him," Lucy says.
"The other children felt like they weren't getting ignored either, which is important because they're often struggling just as much as the kid going through it. That makes us feel as though it's worth it and we're actually helping people," smiles Lucy.
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