It was shortly before Christmas in 2018 when 4-year-old Lilliana Durante woke up with troubling symptoms in her left eye.
The eye was severely crossed and immobile, while her right eye functioned normally. Lilli complained of double vision, and her parents, of course, were concerned.
After doctor visits and tests, Lilli’s parents were told their daughter had an optic pathway glioma, meaning she had cancerous growths on her optic nerve.
“We were unprepared to receive the news that set our lives down a scary path,” Courtney Durante, Lilli’s mother, wrote in a story submitted to the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“How can a child go to sleep perfectly healthy and wake up with one eye crossed?”
Surgery was not an option in Lilli’s case, so she began chemotherapy treatments in February, with the plan of completing treatment after about one year.
While Lilli’s parents were dreading the chemo process, they soon found their daughter to be cheerful and resilient through it all.
“Lilli’s most exciting day was when she was going to get her IV pole like the rest of the other kids. She’s making friends and doesn’t feel alone with her illness. Every week she wears a new princess gown to the hospital.” #StoriesfromChildrens https://t.co/r6ZcV4dPVK pic.twitter.com/10Iva6QRvJ
— UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (@ChildrensPgh) May 22, 2019
Lilli, now 5, wears a different fancy princess dress to each one of her chemotherapy sessions.
She has yet to repeat a dress, her mother said, and looks forward to surprising the hospital staff with her glittery gown of the week — often leaving a trail of sparkles wherever she goes.
“She just knew she had to get some medicine for her sick eye. She is really a trooper through all of it,” Durante, 33, told TODAY Parents.
“She loves wearing big gowns, the bigger the better. The fluffier, the sparklier, the better.”
While Lilli’s parents have bought some of the gowns, others have been given to Lilli by loving family and friends in a show of support and encouragement for the little princess.
Little girl dresses as a different princess for each chemo treatment https://t.co/sfiu9DNmUY
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) August 26, 2019
“She loves surprising everyone every week,” Durante said. “Some of the nurses call her, ‘her majesty.’ It puts a smile on everyone’s face … and usually she gets compliments and eats it up and loves it. It really gives her something to look forward to.”
Dr. Jim Felker, Lilli’s doctor, described his young patient’s joyful spirit as “an inspiration.”
“She exudes that energy and that happiness that is vital to get through what can otherwise be, from the outside, at least, a sad experience. She really is special. She brightens up the clinic,” Felker told TODAY.
Lilli is scheduled to finish treatments in February 2020, and has plenty of unworn princess gowns to see her through.
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