Isabella plunges the spoon deep into an obscenely large bowl of sprinkles and grins widely as a rainbow of sugar pokes through her lips.
No ice cream. Hold the cherry, please.
She just wants sprinkles. “I don’t like sweets,” she explains without irony, as if that makes sense. “I like to eat healthy.”
Isabella, 8, has earned this goofy meal.
This little girl, diagnosed with stage-3 neuroblastoma at 17 months—with a nasty little tumor that gobbled up nearly half her lung—is now five years cancer-free. See? She has paid in full for that bowl of sprinkles, offered up during the Family Advisory Council’s ice cream social at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. A nice surprise after a routine eye visit. Chemotherapy can save a tiny life, but sometimes it can affect vision, so you get your eyes checked regularly and your family is grateful that’s all that remains.
The worst of the cancer Isabella doesn’t remember. Bone marrow transplant? Nope. Radiation? Naw. In fact, looking at photos on mom’s phone of a toddler with pale skin and a shiny bald head, she asks, “Who’s that?”
But Susan remembers. The fear of holding a toddler in your arms as you are told part of a lung must be removed. She shakes her head remembering telling one of Isabella’s oncologists, “God made you smart, and he made me fluffy. Now go prove your parents proud and fix Bella ... and I will be her body pillow for comfort.” She laughs thinking about the things you say in panic. The promises you make in prayer. The tears given up in anguish.
The prayers must have been heard. Susan and Isabella spent 64 days in isolation after her bone marrow transplant. Curled up together in a hospital room, clinging to life. Clinging to each other.
Time wasn’t wasted. Susan used magnetic letters to teach Isabella her ABCs and paid her in stickers to put on the windows as a way of encouraging her to walk. Her health took a hit, but her education was right on target. It all paid off. That tumor was cut out of their lives, and Isabella is now cancer free and all caught up in school.
As they return to the hospital for follow-up care, memories are renewed but so is the celebratory feeling of healing... perhaps understandably, today Isabella gets all the sprinkles a girl can eat.