Sometimes dressing up can make us feel a little better on hard days.
That’s certainly been the case for Lilli Durante, who was just 4 years old when she woke up to a troubling development. Her left eye, which had been fine the day before, was crossed. When her parents took her to the doctor, they learned the devastating news that Lilli had an optic pathway glioma — better understood as cancerous growths on her optic nerve.
The family from Irwin, Pennsylvania, swiftly arranged for chemotherapy to treat the inoperable tumors. Lilli’s mom, Courtney Durante, says Lilli didn’t understand everything about her illness. But one thing the now 5-year-old did know was she was going to look her absolute best whenever she headed to the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. How did this little one look her best? By wearing princess dresses, of course!
“She is really a trooper through all of it,” Courtney said. “She loves wearing big gowns, the bigger the better.”
To make sure Lilli had a fun, memorable experience at all 20 of her chemotherapy appointments, family and friends started giving her outfits to wear. Her favorite dress lets her be Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” but she’s never minded being characters like Ariel, Cinderella, Aurora, and others we might be less familiar with.
The end result was encouraging for everyone who saw the strong little girl, from her parents to the doctors and nurses who cared for her!
“She loves surprising everyone every week,” Courtney 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.”
Lilli’s doctor, Jim Felker, said the children’s cancer unit becomes a little bit brighter when the tiny princess appears. “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,” he said. “She really is special.”
During Lilli’s final treatment, she left a trail of glitter through the hospital hallways. The chemo did decrease the size of her tumors, but Lilli still struggles to see properly because her eye remains crossed. At some point, she will probably need eye surgery.
Despite these hardships, Lilli continues to be a ray of sunshine to those around her. “Lilli is an inspiration,” her doctor said. “You realize how resilient kids like Lilli really are.”
No matter what we go through, it’s important to think of ways to lift our spirits. Doing so will likely benefit the people around us as well, just like the princess dresses did for Lilli and the hospital workers who cared for her. Lilli is such an inspiring little girl. We wish her a speedy recovery!
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