At the conclusion of a long cancer journey comes a happy-ending trip.
Gianna “Gia” Smith, who turned 3 on Friday, was as excited as they come when the silver stretch limousine pulled up Monday morning to the Munroe Falls home she shares with her parents, Derek and Erica; her siblings, Samantha, 5, and Derek Jr., 4, (also called Bubba); cat Woody and dog Artie.
The destination? Walt Disney World, by way of Akron-Canton Airport.
Gia was diagnosed Nov. 4, 2011, with a very rare cancer (embryonal botryoid rhabdomyosarcoma — Stage 3 because the tumor couldn’t be removed by surgery and Stage 1 because there was no metastasis). She’s one of only 350 patients annually in the United States to receive such a devastating diagnosis, which resulted in an intense regimen of seven treatments of high-dose radiation followed by 46 weeks of chemotherapy. The family called her final day of treatment in October “Gia’s Graduation,” and with good reason.
Now cancer-free, Gia still goes to Akron Children’s Hospital for checkups and tests. “We are not entirely out of the woods as she is not considered medically cured until age 7,” mom Erica said. “However, I believe she is cured and her prognosis supports that!”
So this seemed like the perfect time to cash in on a weeklong family trip to Disney, courtesy of Make A Wish.
Gia donned a ballerina skirt of blue netting and a white T-shirt with these words on the back: “Make A Wish Made My Wish Come True.” She busily twirled a pacifier around in her mouth and hugged her cat, saying “I’ll miss you!” Not sure how much Woody understood, but Gia shouted with glee that she was going to see Cinderella.
Actually, it’s much more than that.
“She has an appointment at the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo Boutique in the Cinderella Castle on Thursday morning to get a princess makeover as Cinderella, and then she’ll meet Cinderella,” her excited mother said.
“Seeing her face and seeing her have fun will be great!” Erica added, tearing up.
“We will stay at the Give Kids the World Village, which is special for wish children. … Gia is going to eat her meals in a gingerbread house, have ice cream for breakfast and so many special services at this resort for children. Her trip includes park hopper passes and Gia has chosen Disney World, her big sister Samantha helped choose Universal Studios and we are still debating between the Animal Safari or Sea World. Just the type of decision that brings a smile to my face. A welcomed change!”
So many good shots in the arm for a little girl who, for so long, endured the other kind.
Gia saw fireworks at an Indians game for the first time last week, which was just awesome, her parents said. “She’s heard them before coming from the Aeros ballpark when she was at Children’s Hospital but she had never seen them before,” Erica said.
Also making the trip is Mary Russell of Kent, Gia’s paternal grandma. Grandpa Paul Russell volunteered to stay behind to care for Woody and Artie, and maternal grandma Brenda Pennino, who’s been with Gia every step of the way, has to work. Both are cheering all three of their grandchildren on this special trip and will keep up with the crew of six by phone and text messaging.
“It’s so beautiful it hurts,” their eyes seem to be saying.
Before leaving for Florida, Gia was honored at the sixth annual Cher Bear Golf Outing last weekend in Parma. The fundraiser, which every year helps a child living with cancer, is orchestrated by Dennis Peabody and his foundation, Pennies from Above.
Because so many have helped them financially, the Smiths are now directing all donations meant for Gia to the following:
• Make A Wish Foundation Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana, Northeast Ohio Region c/o Lisa White, wish program manager, at 6060 Rockside Woods Blvd., Suite 315, Independence, OH 44131. Donations fund outings like Gia’s.
• Pennies from Above at www.penniesfromabove.com.
• http://Ginofoundation.org, which is hosting an inaugural “Jedi” Gino Altieri golf outing on Aug. 31 at Sable Creek Golf Course in Hartville, honoring the memory of the 10-year-old Stow boy who lost his battle to Stage 4 alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma a year ago. For more information, please email email@example.com.
“I focus on my daughter’s big smile,” Erica Smith said before leaving for Disney World. “Her hair can now make two tiny pigtails. Her first hair trim was on her birthday with Molly Stover at MC Hair Consultants who has been a huge support to us through all of this.”
The Smiths say the most important reason for accepting the all-expenses-paid Disney trip and celebrating Gia’s survival is this:
“We don’t want her to remember the chemotherapy, radiation or ‘tubey’ [her term for the IV pole].
“We want her to remember meeting Cinderella!”
Here’s to you, Super Gia; may all of your other wishes in life come true.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.