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Child Life Team offers hope to Tucson 7-year-old battling cancer

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 19:57:37-04

Back in 2018, Amelia Ellison was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, called t-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.

"Everything started really quickly," says Amelia's dad, Jacob Ellison. "It went from a bump on her neck to 'you're going to spend the next two weeks, up to a month the hospital. And then you’re going to go home and then come back. And then we’re going to repeat that process for two and a half years or however long it takes'."

She was just a couple of weeks into kindergarten, and on top of that, the Ellisons had two other kids at home.

"You kind of put yourself on an island. You kind of start to retract from everything else. You try and get away from everything and just try and focus on this one thing. And then you realize all the things you’re letting pass by," says Jacob.

Needless to say, the emotions were intense.

"Extreme anger at the situation, extreme sadness. Why us? What did we do? Is it something that just happened," says Jacob.

And that put a lot of things into perspective.

"I couldn’t have done this without my parent’s support and my brother and my sister," says Amelia.

But the beauty here is the fact that that the Ellisons didn’t have to go through this horrible diagnosis alone. Enter the Child Life Team.

"A lot of kids might come into the hospital and hear and see all these things that are being explained to them in scary terms, and we try and come in as that comforting presence," says Child Life Specialist, McKenna Hogan.

Hospitals can be weird places for kids, but this group of folks at Diamond Children’s takes the scary-factor out.

"The first thing they see instead of this weird machine is a new stuffed animal waiting for them on their bed, or a certificate of bravery with their name on it," says Hogan.

So how do you help a family, like the Ellisons, transition from devastation to a new journey that you just have to get through?

"Part of it is just being there emotionally," says Child Life Specialist, Melissa Shiring. "Part of it is just being the shoulder to cry on that day, or to vent to that maybe has nothing to do with their child’s diagnosis.

And speaking of journeys, it’s been a long one for the Ellisons. Two-and-a-half years to be exact.

"I also have something else to say," says Amelia.

Indeed she does. Amelia’s last dose of chemo was in December of 2020. And as we wrapped up our conversation with the Ellisons, something quite profound came from underneath the mask of the bright-eyed seven-year-old.

"Now that I know I come this far, I know I can finish it," says Amelia.

Powerful words from an inspirational little girl who’s beating the odds, and spreading some hope along the way.