Ty Pennington: How a little girl named Boey changed the way I look at life

I think we’re all amazing pieces of art. We’re all works in progress. Each of us starts out as a rough sketch, and then our lives become shaped with strokes, splatters, and imprints of color and personality.

We “works in progress” become deeper and richer, and we reflect emotion. We start to tell a story that matters — a story that makes a difference — because we are influenced by a story stronger than our own. One that’s heavier, harder, and more painful than we know how to express. These are the influences that really impact and change you, that set you apart from what you were before you met them.

Sometimes that amazing influence can be a little 8-year-old girl fighting a reoccurring monster called cancer, a fight that’s hard to win.


That little girl’s name is Boey, and she changed the way I look at life forever.

When I think about all the deserving families we help on "Extreme Makeover," there’s one family I always get choked up about, even when I’m just talking about them in interviews. It’s not that the Byers family is so different from any other. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Boey’s story inspires other kids, along with other families, to fight hard, give the gift of hope, and to never quit believing in the power to overcome all obstacles.

They’re a family that seems so familiar. Almost as if they live on your street maybe three doors down. They’re the family at every community sporting event and backyard barbecue, the one laughing and shouting and having fun. It’s like we all know them, like they’re just like us, except for this one thing: Their youngest daughter, Boey, is fighting cancer for the second time.

Cancer is a horrible disease that can kill a family’s spirit, yet the Byers family’s spirit is stronger than any I’ve ever seen. The backbone of that spirit is Boey. She’s fought the monster of cancer once already and beat it, and in the process, she’s realized how many kids going through chemotherapy don’t even have a stuffed teddy bear to hold on to or to cry into when no one is looking.

Having gone through chemo herself, she knows how horrible it can be, so she wants to make a difference.

So Boey raises money selling whatever it takes, finding a way to bring a stuffed, fluffy teddy bear to every kid in that hospital.

Literally in her weakest moments, she finds the strength to think about others suffering the same fate. Who does that at the age of eight?

When I ask Boey what it was like finding out her cancer had come back, she can’t find the words. Because there are no words to describe complete devastation. There are no words to describe what it’s like to look into your parents’ eyes and see their fear of knowing the inevitable. Having to be strong every single day when, as parents, you have to subject your daughter to more chemo and radiation even as she’s saying out loud, “Please, I’d rather die than go through that again.” How do you fully describe that? You can’t.

The thing about meeting Boey is that she acts like an adult. So smart, educated, and well-spoken. It’s like talking to an old soul in a young, battle-stricken body. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be a kid who never really gets to have a childhood. Think about it — she loses her hair because of the chemo, and then just as it starts growing back in, she gets the news that the cancer is back and she has to lose it all over again.

I think we’ve all known someone or a family that’s been affected by the horrors of cancer. It’s awful — that’s all you can say. Cancer just sucks.

Maybe that’s why we all feel so connected to this family.

My desire is to give Boey a bit of the childhood that cancer has taken away, so I make her room my special project and design her very own little fashion boutique, complete with clothes, branding, and, of course, a closet full of shoes and colorful wigs — something an eight-year-old girl shouldn’t have to wear, but if she has to, she may as well look super swank while doing so.

I’ll always remember her face as she walks into her new room. It’s the face of an angel feeling joy and happiness for the first time in a while.

A joy that’s inspired by her spirit of strength and giving despite her circumstances of need. I only spend a moment in time with Boey, but that little human being with a gigantic spirit inside has a lasting impact on who I am today.

Boey and the Byers family impact so many lives. Boey’s story inspires other kids, along with other families, to fight hard, give the gift of hope, and to never quit believing in the power to overcome all obstacles.

Boey gives something to this world. She gives us the meaning of strength, love, family, and hope.


She inspires us all to never step away from a challenge.

Even a challenge as big as finding a cure for cancer.