It was just one year ago when little Willow celebrated her third birthday, but not where she or her family expected. Newly diagnosed with pre-b cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (pre B-ALL), Willow was surrounded by Child Life specialists and nurses who threw her a Frozen-themed party at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. It all fell on the weekend when Hurricane Irma was set to make landfall in Tampa Bay. The precious, yet emotional, moment was caught on camera and the video went viral, touching hearts across the country.
“It is still so incredibly emotional to watch,” says Willow’s mom, Jennifer. “It’s hard to bring myself back to that time in my life. She’s come really far.”
She has come so far that Willow is now in the maintenance part of her treatment, which means she takes chemotherapy daily from home and has fewer appointments. But she has been through a lot: three major surgeries, more than a dozen blood transfusions and 14 lumbar punctures.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on 7 South [the cancer unit] and we love and trust all of our doctors,” Jennifer says. “The nurses were also really great. Even when Willow wasn’t into interacting or talking much, they still came in with smiles on their faces and were always super patient with her.”
Now, 12 months later, Willow is not only doing great, but coming up on another birthday.
“She will be 4 and it will be one year since her diagnosis, which is also a pretty big milestone,” Jennifer says. “I’m so excited, we’re going to have to do something big. I think we are going to get a princess and rent a big blow-up waterslide.”
For those who have cared for her, including Jessica Wishnew, M.D., it is a momentous time.
“We watch her video a lot around here,” Wishnew says. “I think she’s made a lot of great strides in terms of learning how to deal with the procedures she has to go through, and we love seeing her. She definitely brings a lot of energy and happiness when she comes in.”
For girls with pre B-ALL, treatment takes about 2½ years, and Wishnew is pleased with her progress.
“Average risk pre B-ALL has a cure rate in the 90-plus percent range,” Wishnew says. “Willow is responding to treatment as expected.”
Willow will officially complete treatment on Nov. 17, 2019 and will ring the symbolic bell signifying and celebrating the end of treatment soon after that.
“We are really grateful for how well she is doing,” Jennifer says. “We know she’s going to beat this, and she’s going to be fine.”
But for now, it’s time for another special birthday celebration–a princess party awaits!
Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/cancer to learn more about the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute.