Hit with cancer at 4 months old, an Immokalee toddler gets a clean bill following her first birthday
Giselle Morales celebrated her first birthday on Aug. 5 and then rang the celebration bell on Friday, denoting the end to her cancer treatments.
Giselle Morales likely won’t remember much of the first year of her life and her eight-month battle with an uncommon form of cancer.
At age 4, the Immokalee child was diagnosed with adrenal neuroblastoma and began chemotherapy treatment. And on Friday, close to a month after her first birthday, that treatment’s effects became reality when Giselle took the one action that many cancer patients look forward to - the ceremonial bell-ringing on her last day of chemo.
“I thought the chemo might affect her development,” Nilda Herrera, her grandmother, said as she awaited the busy little girl on the fifth floor of Golisano Children’s Hospital prior to the ceremony. “But it didn’t.”
Giselle’s course of chemotherapy at Golisano Children’s Hospital eventually lead to her remission from the cancer that develops in nerve tissue and usually affects kids under age 5.
Dr. Craig Macarthur, specialist in pediatric hematology/oncology at Golisano, said while the cancer Giselle had isn't rare, it certainly isn't among the more common types.
"There's about 600 cases a year in the United States," he said.
In front of a gaggle of oncology nurses, Macarthur, Lemon the therapy dog and a handful of relatives, Giselle, aided by her mother, Marisol, and father, Boni, both 31, the toddler shook and rattled the special “last day of treatment” cowbell.
Prior to that, the nurses, waving flashing lighted sticks and tossing confetti, sang a little song for the 1-year-old: “Our patient’s have the cutest s-m-i-l-e, our patients have the biggest, h-e-a-r-t. We love to see you every day, but now it’s time for us to say, you’re all done get out the door, you don’t need chemo anymore.”
Giselle was the youngest of five patients who rang the sought-after bell Friday and helped kick off September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
At Golisano Children’s Hospital, kids are given a bell to decorate when they start chemo, so they can look forward to ringing it on their last day of treatment.
“When I heard the bell going I just thought about the symbolism behind all of it,” Marisol Morales said. “I was just telling my husband on the way over here, I was looking at all the pictures. It’s like, right now I’m fine and we are so happy, she’s doing so amazing.”
But Giselle’s mom then teared up because the battle, Giselle’s battle, wasn’t always certain.
“There were some times throughout the journey that it was not the case,” she said. “And that makes me very emotional.”
Morales said she and her husband often think of those families who were not so lucky.
“To be able to celebrate here, we just feel so blessed,” she said. “I think about the families who have lost loved ones because of this. I think about them all the time. Every time I think about honoring her, I want to honor those, as well, who are not here.”
Giselle’s grandfather Zacarias Herrera is himself a cancer survivor and now feels a special extra bond with his granddaughter.
“I feel great that she’s ringing the bell today because two years I had a cancer too, a bone marrow cancer, and I was at the Moffitt Cancer Center,” he said. “I rang the bell, too. So, that makes me happier that Giselle rang her bell too.”
Giselle’s bell-ringing event isn’t the only Childhood Cancer Month observation.
Throughout September, pediatric cancer survivors will take part in Clips for Cancer during which they are allowed to shave the heads of more than 25 local community leaders to raise awareness of the effects of cancer treatment, which often include hair loss.
Clips for Cancer aims to raise $500,000 to benefitBarbara’s Friends – Golisano Children’s Hospital’s cancer fund. Each Friday in September, shaves will be hosted on Facebook Live on Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Facebook page from Great Clips salons to benefit Barbara’s Friends.
Since Clips for Cancer started in 2018, the event has grown from a one day with a few participants to a month-long celebration of childhood cancer patients and survivors by the community.
More than 20 area pediatric cancer and blood disease survivors are expected to shave volunteers this month, including children, teenagers and young adults.
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