At 15, Asja' McCullough has had to go through more than any kid should have to.
A brain tumor, a horrible thing called pineoblastoma. The surgery to get rid of it, and more than a year of treatment that followed her diagnosis and surgery for cancer.
The Rock Hill teen had to quit cheerleading at Saluda Trail Middle School and leave school. She had to take a year of school, her ninth grade, in Memphis, Tenn., where she was being treated at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for children with cancer.
And, of course, the chemotherapy made her hair fell out.
Now, Asja' and her mother say she is cancer-free.
Yet somehow, with all that has happened to her, Asja' wants to help other kids. She was so beloved in middle school that her cheer teammates jumped and pom-pommed along busy Dave Lyle Boulevard to raise cancer awareness.
But Asja' is not through helping. Her way to help?
"I decided on hats," said Asja'.
Hats, for kids with cancer, to cover up heads during those self-conscious times when a kid battling for life is going bald, plain bald, or almost bald with hair growing back.
"I know what it was like," she said. "I just wanted other kids to have a special hat to call their own."
So with the blessings of the Rev. Herb Crump and youth ministry leader Chris Lyles at Freedom Temple Ministries, as well as the Shear Images hair salon where her mother works, Asja' has started collecting hats.
A simple gesture, not a lot of fanfare, just collection tubs at the church and at the salon.
But sometimes small actions make a big difference. During Asja's illness, other teens wore hats to church as a show of support.
"This shows young people can and do make a difference," said Crump, Freedom Temple's senior pastor.
In just the past couple of weeks, Asja', daughter of Gail Wright and LeJuan McCullough, has collected more than 60 hats.
"When something like this happens to one of our own, it hits home," said Lyles, the youth pastor. "Asja' and the youth ministry are continuing to raise that awareness by reaching out to help other children."
Asja's mother - during the months first at the Levine's Children's Hospital in Charlotte, then the cancer hospital in Memphis - saw first-hand what children go through during the grueling treatment.
The hats - just like one Asja' wore for months - are important to the children, Wright said, and the impact of just the right hat for just the right kid helps families get through trying times.
The hats, collected through the middle of October, will be sent to both hospitals.
"We saw it ourselves, received it ourselves, the service these places provide," Wright said. "They put kids first."
Asja' is now in the 10th grade at South Pointe High School. She is in honors classes, and Monday night, she will be inducted into the prestigious Beta Club for top students.
Her hair has largely grown back.
She will not wear a hat.
But somewhere, another kid fighting cancer who has lost her hair - but not her will to survive - will be out there hoping that somebody will look out for them.
Asja' is looking out for those kids' heads - and their hearts.
"I went through it," she said. "I love kids; I just want to help and give back."
So much so, Asja' has already decided what she wants to do in life.
"Pediatrician," she said. "A doctor for sick kids - like I was."
Want to help?
New hats can be dropped off at:
Shear Images, 1030 Edwards St., Rock Hill (behind the Bank of America branch on Cherry Road)
Freedom Temple, 215 E. Main. St., downtown Rock Hill