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GABRIELLA: The day before Giselle’s 3rd birthday, we came to Packard Children’s. She had been sick for two weeks, and we wanted more extensive testing done. On the way home, I received a phone call from the hospital asking where we were. I told them I was driving back to San Jose. She told me to get off the highway, turn off the car. When she asked me to return to the hospital, I knew immediately. Cancer—leukemia—had been a possibility, and I just knew.

We celebrated Giselle’s 3rd birthday in the hospital … with a bone marrow aspiration and her first chemo. 

She became very ill during her first week of treatment and spent two months in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Packard Children’s. Once she was released from the hospital, our family knew we had a long fight ahead. 

When she has a fever, because of these kids’ compromised immune systems, the doctor always says to drive to the nearest hospital. I’ve learned that as soon as she gets a fever, I start driving to Packard Children’s. By the time the on-call oncologist calls us back to tell me to go to the nearest hospital, I’m already at Packard! When you have a child with cancer, there’s just no other place I would go. 

I still remember when the nurses gave Giselle a toy that someone had donated. It meant the world to us because we had been stuck in a hospital room for weeks. It made us feel that we hadn’t been forgotten.

Medicine that works, but hurts

GABRIELLA: Giselle lost her ability to walk due to the chemo. She ended up in leg braces for some time. Her kidneys started to produce stones, she became septic several times, she had skin issues, her immune system constantly needed a boost, the list goes on and on. 

She saw it happen to other children in the hospital too. She would ask me, why is he not playing, or why does she have a tube in her nose? She asked me why, if the medicine (chemo) was so bad, did they keep giving it to her? I explained that we had nothing else but this medicine. 

My baby was so sick from chemo. But she smiled and stayed positive through it all. So we started calling our brave and strong superhero “Wondergirl.” 

For her 5th birthday, Giselle decided she didn’t want toys or gifts. Instead she wanted her friends and family to donate to the hospital. I asked her what we should do with the money raised. 

GISELLE: I want to raise money for my cancer friends, for medicine that doesn’t hurt.

November 16, 2016, was a momentous day. Giselle and her family delivered hundreds of toys to Packard Children’s for patients. With their friends from Team G Childhood Cancer Foundation, they also presented a $4,885 check to Dr. Crystal Mackall for cancer immunotherapy research. (Dr. Mackall was not involved in Giselle’s care, but Giselle’s family was interested in the potential for her research to provide better options to Giselle’s “cancer friends.”) In return, Giselle’s nurses in the Bass Cancer Center surprised her with a cake to celebrate finally being cancer-free.

Why Wondergirl still needs heroes like you

GABRIELLA: Packard Children’s was there when our family needed them. We are so grateful for the many donors who gave to this hospital so that she could fight and beat her cancer. However, this isn’t enough for Giselle. As you’d expect from someone named Wondergirl, she won’t stop fighting until there is a cure for all kids with cancer. 

Giselle does not like to see others suffer. She’s having a very hard time understanding that the medicine she raised money for won’t come today. She’s heartbroken. I’ve done my best explaining how research works, but she’s not convinced. 

She wants the medicine for her cancer friends now! 

My hope is that immunotherapy will become frontline therapy for children with leukemia. I want it to solve the horrible issues and the life-threatening side effects chemo has on children. If the cancer doesn’t kill our children, the chemo will. That is NOT okay. We need to allow research hospitals like Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford to unlock the mystery of less invasive methods with fewer side effects. 

My hope is also that Giselle will live a full and normal life. That she draws strength from this experience to work harder in life to reach her goals. 

GISELLE: When I grow up? I want to be a singer and a doctor to help kids with cancer.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Lucile Packard Children's News.