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“I was diagnosed with my first cancer when I was 8 years old,” Denielle smiles confidently, fiddling with her beloved ukulele. “It was stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer. Back then, the hospital didn’t have any music therapy at all.”

That was in 2017. After two years of remission, Denielle and her family hoped they were through the worst of it.

But then, recalls Denielle, “One day I started to feel some really severe pain. My mom rushed me to the emergency room. I came back to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and that’s when they diagnosed me with my second cancer, epithelioid sarcoma.”

Denielle knew our hospital. She knew the child life specialists, she enjoyed spending time with the teachers in the Hospital School. But this time was different—this time we were in a pandemic. No friends, not even her sister, could come visit her. Masks and social distancing were mandatory due to COVID-19. As Denielle explains, “You can’t see other kids and nurses and staff face-to-face, and you don’t have the entire connection.”

The playrooms were also closed, but thankfully Denielle’s music therapist, Emily, came to her bedside. “Denielle gets very anxious during infusions. She can taste the medicine, and that triggers nausea,” Denielle’s mom, Lisette explains. “That day when we first met Emily, it changed everything for her.”

“I said I wanted to learn ukulele and she taught me a couple of songs. Then, throughout that entire admission, I just kept on playing.” Denielle faced a long battle during her second round of cancer treatments at Packard Children’s Hospital. “Playing ukulele really helped me a lot. It really distracted me from all my side effects and all the pain I was going through at the time. Music helped me through the hardest time of my life.”

Denielle finished her chemotherapy treatment in July 2020 and we are so thrilled to announce that she is now cancer-free! She just celebrated her 13th birthday back at home, and what did she wish for? A brand new ukulele, of course!

“Child Life Services made a big impact on me and my family. Coming here because your child is sick is challenging and stressful for the whole family—the feeling of fear and confusion,” says Lisette. “My heart is full of gratitude to the generous donors for making an incredible difference for kids and families like mine.”

Denielle keeps strumming along, and she and her family are joining us as your Summer Scamper Patient Heroes.