St. Jude patient offers her own balloon art to everyone she meets

Misheel, bald from chemotherapy, pulls up a chair on the second-floor inpatient unit. A younger child shouts, “The balloon girl!”

Suddenly, she’s surrounded by other children. She reaches into her backpack for colorful balloons and inflates and twists them into a bunny, then a unicorn, then a giraffe, then a butterfly. Then she gives them all away.

During Misheel’s nearly seven months of treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, she learned to make balloon creations and gifted them to her comrades in cancer treatment.

Misheel was 11 years old in the summer of 2023 when her parents noticed no matter how much water she drank, she still felt thirsty. At first, they thought it was a healthy habit, far preferable to drinking juice or soda. But her thirst was never quenched. Misheel began excusing herself to go to the restroom so frequently that they knew something must be wrong.

Her mother Undrakh took Misheel to the family doctor near their home in Illinois. Tests revealed a tumor on Misheel’s pituitary gland, as well as two other spots in her brain. She was diagnosed with a type of cancer called mixed germ cell tumors.

Soon, her parents obtained a referral to St. Jude. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital leads the way the world understands, treats, and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing, or food — so they can focus on helping their child live. Because of generous donor support, they can provide children with cutting-edge treatments not covered by insurance, at no cost to families.

“We were so worried and nervous, but as soon as we walked into St. Jude, we had a feeling that we’d be okay,” said Undrakh.

Misheel learned how to create balloons from her 82-year-old godfather, Robert Dunn. On the circus stage, his name is Robert “Onionhead the Clown” Dunn. Misheel knows Dunn through UniversalSoul Circus, where her father, Gantulkhurr, is part of an acrobatic teeterboard troupe from Mongolia called The Nomads.

When Misheel and her family moved to the U.S. from Mongolia in 2019 for her father’s job, she didn’t speak English. It was a whole new language and culture. But a circus is a traveling family of sorts, and Dunn, who values education, often purchased books for the children of the performers and encouraged them to read.

When Misheel was diagnosed with cancer, “It tore me up,” said Dunn. “It hurt me so much.”

So, he visited her family at St. Jude soon after she started treatment. To help cheer her up, he taught her how to make a few balloon creations, knowing it might spark something.

“She took it from there and ran with it,” said Dunn. “She’s better than me at making animal balloons now.”

Misheel had come to the U.S., a strange and unfamiliar place, and Dunn showed her family friendship.

Misheel pays his kindness forward every day — or every time she reaches into her backpack for another balloon. 

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