On the night before Thanksgiving last year, Cora Morgan picked up the phone and heard the worst news of her life. Test results showed that her 4-year-old daughter, Harper, had a rare form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia and would need immediate hospitalization for treatment.
“I felt like I’d been hit by a truck — I couldn’t talk, sleep or eat for five days,” Cora, 34, of Lehi, Utah, tells PEOPLE. “I was almost afraid to breathe. I just went into ‘mom’ mode and shut down.”
Several streets away, unbeknownst to Cora, Korrine Roberts was feeling the same anguish about her daughter, Livvi, 5. Diagnosed with the same type of leukemia, Livvi was in her ninth month of chemotherapy when Korrine heard the news about Harper from a friend and sent Cora a text message.
“I told her, ‘I know you’re in the craziest, most stressful time of your life — I’m here if you need me,'” Korrine, 30, a stay-at-home mom of four, tells PEOPLE. “I wanted her to know that the next month would be the most difficult of her life, but that she would get through it.”
While Harper, now responding well to chemotherapy, is delighted to have a friend who understands what it’s like to feel sick and lose all of her hair, the friendship between the two families is even more important to the girls’ moms.
“It’s been so helpful to have Korrine here to help me know what to expect and offer the support that you can only get from someone who’s been there,” Cora, a hospital finance director with one other daughter, tells PEOPLE. “We’re there for each other. Cancer moms are a force to be reckoned with.”
It was March 2016, when Korrine and her husband, Rick, a software developer, learned the reason behind Livvi’s suddenly pale complexion. Doctors initially thought the preschooler was anemic, but Korrine insisted that her daughter have further tests, including a bone marrow aspiration.
“As soon as we got home from the doctor’s office, the phone was ringing with the bad news,” she recalls. “Cancer isn’t the kind of news you can ever prepare to hear about, especially when it involves your child. It was gut-wrenching.”
Livvy, who went through 10 months of chemotherapy, is now on a once-monthly maintenance program and is thrilled to see her hair growing back.
“We were lucky in that Harper could look at pictures of Livvy and see what was going to happen,” Cora tells PEOPLE. She and her husband, Ryan, who manages a housewares store, felt grateful to know that brighter days were ahead.
“Korinne really helped to prepare us for every new development,” she says. “And as a bonus, it’s been wonderful and heartwarming to watch our girls become friends.”
The community of Lehi has rallied behind the two families, recently holding a “spa day” for the girls and a drive to sign more than 100 people up as potential bone marrow donors, partnering with DKMS, a nonprofit fighting blood cancer.
“We’re fortunate in that neither of our girls needs a bone marrow transplant, and we hope it remains that way,” Korrine says. “But many other families aren’t as fortunate. So we feel it’s important to help every way we can and raise awareness.”
“Who knows what can happen through the power of these two little girls,” Cora tells PEOPLE. “All it takes is one match to save a life. I can’t control what the cancer is doing to Harper’s body, but maybe I can help another mom to feel less angst, just like Korrine helped me. However I can, I want to pass that along.”