‘Strength Has Nothing to Do With Size’: My Daughter’s Childhood Cancer Journey

by Peter Ieraci
February 3, 2017

At just 21 months old, Honored Kid Isabella was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma. But this devastating news was just the beginning of a long journey of treatments and surgeries that stole precious time from Isabella and her family. Her dad, Peter, explains what it was like.

isabella and her dad

“Your child has cancer.”

These are the words we heard on June 12, 2015, and life hasn’t been the same since.

At just 21 months, our daughter Isabella was diagnosed with stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma. This meant she would have to endure six rounds of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, MIBG therapy, two stem cell transplants, proton radiation, immunotherapy, and countless tests, scans, and transfusions.

Read more about Isabella’s cancer journey >

All of that is enough to scare any parent. But what we couldn’t see coming was that cancer would take away the past year and a half of our lives — and there isn’t an end in sight.

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After she was diagnosed, Isabella spent the next 18 days in the hospital for treatment. Under hospital protocol, no kids under 12 were allowed to see her.

Right away, Isabella couldn’t play with her sisters, Sophia and Alexa — something she loved to do.

But that was the just the beginning.

We went home from the hospital with a bag full of medications, and a list of what Isabella can and can’t do.

We no longer had control of our daughter’s life — cancer did.

isabella in the hospital

Isabella in the hospital during her treatment.

Isabella had to stay away from crowded areas because her immune system was compromised. This meant avoiding all group gatherings, including family parties and nursery school. Even her sisters couldn’t have friends over.

Cancer was in full control of what we did as a family. And it didn’t get easier.

After her surgery to remove the tumor, we spent 24 days in the hospital. That meant 24 days of no fresh air, no stroller rides, bad hospital food, and missing her siblings.

When Isabella went on to get MIBG therapy, we weren’t allowed to hold her or even get close to her for five days because she was emitting radiation.

It might not sound like a long time, but five days of being scared, without being comforted or held by your parents, is a lot for a 2-year-old. Cancer took away her feeling of safety and security.

isabella smiling

A smiling Isabella stays positive during one of her many hospital stays.

Her next two treatments were stem cell transplants. Each time, she spent a month in the hospital. Not only was she not able to see her siblings, but she couldn’t eat or drink, she couldn’t leave her room, and she was sick constantly.

Isabella then spent 20 days getting proton radiation, followed by five rounds of immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy meant another 35 days of isolation and restrictions for Isabella. She couldn’t walk around because she was hooked up to heart monitors and on a constant morphine drip.

BLOG: How Immunotherapy Saved Phineas [VIDEO] >

But Isabella took everything that was thrown at her with strength and grace.

When she was finally able to leave her room, she would patrol the hallways, pushing around a stroller with her favorite doll in it.

isabella playing doctor

Isabella stays busy during her treatment by playing doctor.

She was known for throwing kisses to the doctors and nurses, and filling the hallways with her infectious smile and laugh.

She has an amazing ability to go through a painful experience and then move on as if nothing happened. It’s almost like she refuses to waste another minute of her little life.

We draw our strength from her. She has taught us that strength has nothing to do with size.

Cancer took so much time away from Isabella — time she could have spent playing with her sisters, enjoying life, and just being a kid.

It’s time you can never get back. You just have to hope you get more.

For now, our little hero is showing no evidence of disease. She is an active, talkative 3-year-old and we hope that someday we may be able to have some normalcy in our lives in between the check-ups and scans.

happy isabella

A happy Isabella smiles for the camera.

Isabella will be closely monitored for the rest of her life for relapse, secondary cancers, and side effects from the toxic treatment.

Cancer will forever be a part of our lives.

BLOG: The Fight’s Never Over: The Two Biggest Threats Facing Childhood Cancer Survivors >

This is why we need to fund the research that will help our family — and thousands of others — move on with their lives and never look back.

Because no family should have to hear those awful words, “Your child has cancer.”

Help take childhood back from cancer for kids like Isabella. Get involved and help fund lifesaving childhood cancer research today.

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