Beth Laitkep and Stephanie Culley were best friends for years. They’d supported each other through pregnancies, the births of nine kids (between them), and Laitkep’s terminal breast cancer diagnosis in 2014.
After battling the illness for two years, Beth, a 39-year-old single mother of six, decided to stop treatment. As she was dying, she asked Stephanie a big question: would her friend take in her six children once she was gone?
“She was in her hospital bed and she said, ‘Can you do this? I know you will, but can you do this? Can you handle raising nine kids?'” Stephanie tells Us Weekly.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but with the children’s fathers out of the picture, Stephanie was the closest thing to family they had.
“I knew that we were their only option other than foster care and I just couldn’t bear that,” she says. “Me being a mother, I couldn’t fathom letting her die not knowing if her kids would be loved.”
On May 19th this year, Beth died knowing her children would be taken in by the Culleys and raised alongside their own three kids.
Will, 15, Selena, 14, Jaxson, 12, Dallas, 10, Lily, 5, and Ace, 2, joined Stephanie and her husband Donnie's kids Cole, 10, Hayden, 6, and Calen, 2.
And just a week ago the Culleys were granted permanent custody of all six of Laitkep's children.
"As soon as we came out [of the courtroom] and locked eyes, Will ran over and gave my husband a huge bear hug. Selena about knocked me over. She ran straight into my arms and started crying her eyeballs out. We’re so relieved. Those babies have been so worried that they were going to get taken."