When Beth Laitkep was fighting for her life in the hospital, she found unwavering support from her best friend, Stephanie Culley.
While the pair had been close since their days working together as teenagers, their relationship evolved as Stephanie became a critical part of not only her friend's battle with breast cancer but also in the lives of Beth's six children. As Beth's cancer progressed, it got to the point where the single mom needed reassurance that her friend would do something for her: always make sure that her daughters have bows in their hair.
Before Beth passed away at 39 years old, Stephanie had not only promised that her girls would always have their hair just right, but she had already moved all six children in with her and her husband, Donnie. When Beth learned that the cancer had spread to her spine and brain, her kids, Will, 15, Selena, 14, Jaxson, 11, Dallas, 10, Lily, 5, and Ace, 1, moved in with Stephanie, Donnie, and their three children kids Cole, 10, Hayden, 6, and Calen, 2.
"She said to me, 'If a miracle doesn't happen and I don't make it, can you take my children as your own?'" Stephanie told People. "And I immediately said yes."
Beth was first diagnosed with cancer during her last pregnancy, and the father of her children left the family after her condition deteriorated following an emergency C-section and chemotherapy. "We grew very, very close during that time, and Beth's children became best friends with mine," Stephanie recalled. "We became a family while Beth was still alive, and we love them like our own, so it made sense for me to take the kids in when she died."
While going from being a mother of three to nine hasn't been easy, adoption paperwork has already been filed and Stephanie is doing everything she can to help the children transition to their new normal. "I don't sweat the small stuff anymore," she told Today. "Snotty noses, disastrous house, laundry as tall as the ceiling? Beth would give anything for that right now, and I have that."