Isabella “Bella” Stanfield of MetroWest remains happy and positive throughout her cancer treatment.
Isabella “Bella” Stanfield, 4, loves karate, swimming and dancing, especially jazz and ballet.
“She is so, so, so sweet,” said Deanna Gustafson, center director at Children’s Lighthouse. “She is bubbly, and she has a beautiful smile. She is just a super sweet little girl, and super strong and very determined.”
One year ago this spring, Bella fell at the playground. That is when the doctors found the cancer. With barely a symptom, the vibrant preschooler was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive cancerous neoplasm, on the upper two-thirds of her left femur. According to Nemours, one of the leading children’s health care systems, osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer and sixth most common type of cancer in children.
“It was not a big fall,” Luciana said. “She was just running, and she fell. But she cried so much they thought she had a broken leg. Everyone thought it was a sign of God, because when she fell, that is when they found the cancer.”
Bella quickly began treatment with Vincent F. Giusti, M.D., chair of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Department at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center — Orlando, and G. Douglas Letson, M.D., of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa.
“This tumor is very rare in this age group,” Giusti said. “It most often occurs in teenagers.”
Bella went on to have three biopsies, and, in late September 2011, she underwent surgery to remove almost the entire bone. Her upper hip area and the last one-third of her femur were connected with a pioneering internal prosthesis that contains noninvasive magnets, allowing the prosthesis to expand as she grows.
“Everything was really, really custom-made for her,” Luciana said. “It can extend to the maximum and can grow with her as much as needed, so she will not need extensive surgery. It is the top-of-the-top to make sure she is comfortable for life. After her surgery, she never complained about pain. I feel bad to complain about a headache now. She is so strong.”
“Isabella is always happy and outgoing, no matter what,” Giusti said. “She is tolerating the therapy very well, without complaint, and she responded beautifully. She should do well.”
Bella also found strength through her dancing at N.Y.C. Dance in Ocoee, where she has attended since she was just 17 months old. N.Y.C. Dance owner Kristin Kehley gifted Bella and her family with a lifetime membership, as well as unlimited dance attire and accessories for Bella.
“[Bella] told me, ‘I need to get strong again so I can go back to dancing,’” Luciana said.
“She is just always that outgoing kid,” Kristin said. “Any time we talk to anybody about her, they are always able to pick her out right away. She is one of those kids that you remember for years and years.”
Recently, Bella made her wish come true, when she returned for a dance class, even during her treatment.“She did really come to dance with her walker,” Kristin said. “She was even hopping on one foot. She did everything. It was amazing to see.”
“She gives me strength,” Luciana said. “She didn’t care that she had no hair like the other kids; there she was, dancing with her walker. I believe God is working through her. She is dancing during chemo. She amazes me. She shines.”
People of Faith Lutheran Church and Children’s Lighthouse have also been tremendous sources of support.Church, child care and staff members have offered the family unremitting prayers and emotional support, visited Bella in the hospital, provided baby-sitting and schooling, raised money, brought meals and even helped the family move when Luciana, a registered nurse, had to quit her job, and they lost their home.
“We have deep faith that God will heal our child,” Luciana said. “However, we could not have walked through this forever-changing life event without the emotional support and helping hands of some [local businesses]. We do not have words to thank the People of Faith and Children’s Lighthouse staff. They have been amazing. We are so thankful.”
“If it happened to me, I would want someone to help me,” Deanna said, fighting back tears. “I would want that support. That’s what we are — what we are called to do. That’s what we are supposed to do; it’s the right thing to do.”
“We could not have done all this without the community,” Luciana said. “I need to find a way to help the community. I want to find a way to give back.”
Luciana hopes to one day form a foundation and help Bella encourage other patients who are diagnosed with osteosarcoma.
“She can inspire them,” she said. “She can say, ‘Look at me, I had cancer, and I made it.’ She can help them.”
MetroWest resident Isabella “Bella” Stanfield (center) receives support from Deanna Gustafson (left) and Carol Willard of Children’s Lighthouse of People of Faith in Winter Garden.
Looking to the future, Luciana also dreams of watching her daughter reach her full potential.“I want to see her grow,” she said. “I dream about seeing her as a teenager, really tall with long hair. I want to see her grow to be herself. For her to be alive, that’s what’s important.
“It doesn’t matter,” Luciana added, about Bella’s surgery scar. “She can wear it proud. She is always going to have a story to tell as she goes through her life.”
As for Bella, she hopes to soon ride a bike and to one day help children like herself.
“This week, she told me, ‘Mommy, I want to be a doctor. I want to help the other kids,’” Luciana said. “That came from her.”
For more information about Isabella Stanfield, visit www.helpisabella.com on the Web.
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