When Stephanie Culley's best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, the Virginia mom of three didn't hesitate to jump in and help take care of the other mother's six children. And when her friend's diagnosis grew grim, Culley once again stepped in to help — honoring her best friend's wishes by adopting her children and raising them as her own.
Beth Laitkep was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago; she was 37 years old and pregnant with her sixth child, Ace. She underwent an emergency C-section so that she could begin chemotherapy. And for a time, the treatments seemed to be working.
Culley and Laitkep had been close friends in high school who reconnected when Laitkep moved back home to Virginia after a stint living in Texas. According to People.com, when Laitkep received word that the cancer had spread to her spine and brain, the father of her kids abandoned them and it was Culley who stepped in to help.
Laitkep's six kids, Will, 15, Selena, 14, Jaxson, 12, Dallas, 10, Lily, 5, and Ace, 2, came to live with Stephanie, her husband Donnie, and their three children, Cole, 10, Hayden, 6, and Calen, 2, while Laitkep was undergoing treatment.
Laitkep knew she did not have much time left. So she asked her best friend for one more favor. "Can you take my babies, all of them and keep them together?" Culley recalled Laitkep asking her. "She said, 'I know you will do this for me, but can you raise nine kids?"
Culley told People, "We discussed it as a family and my kids were the first to say yes. They had gotten really close with (Beth's) kids. My husband was like a deer in headlights, but he knew that this was what we had to do."
While Laitkep was still alive, she drew up temporary custody papers asking the courts to allow the Culleys to adopt her kids. And just a few days ago, a judge officially granted custody to the Culleys.
"We started dancing as soon as the judge made his ruling," Culley told ABC News. "It was like winning the Super Bowl for us. It was an amazing day."
And that's how the Culley family of five became a family of 11.
"Our kids already consider themselves true brothers and sisters," Culley told People. "If they're sad, they cry to us and we cry with them. They let their feelings out and we are all here to support them."