A fairy tale comes true for one young girl

10 Mar

It was last July when the 7-year old was suffering from headaches and lost the ability to smile, which doctors discovered was caused by a pontine glioma — a tumorous growth in an inoperable section of her brainstem.

In the past six months, the first-grader atSt. PaulLutheranSchoolhas been through hell, tolerating twice-monthly trips to Children’s Hospital inOmahafor chemotherapy and having treatments at home in between.

Through the process, the radiation and all the required medication, Gracie’s mom, Jessica McCarthy, said the vacation was a much-needed break for the resilient child, who got to meet her idol.

“This was Gracie’s trip and Gracie chose to see Cinderella,” McCarthy said. “One of the first things we got to do was to meet Cinderella and Gracie was so happy and so excited, it was just a wonderful feeling for her. I bawled. I cried when they were hugging and taking pictures. It was just so magical for her to get to meet and be with Cinderella and they sat and had a little conversation.”

Meeting Cinderella was the highlight, but was far from the only fun activity Gracie and her family got to do.


An avid swimmer and animal lover, Gracie got a behind-the-scenes encounter with a dolphin that she got to pet and feed.

She also got to see a whale show at Sea World, which she enjoyed more than the rest of her family, being the only one equipped with a poncho.

Melissa Davis-Schmit, regional program director for the Make a Wish Foundation, said Gracie is an ideal candidate for the foundation, which grants wishes to children struggling with illness.

“Her true, heart-felt wish was to go to Disney World and visit the princesses, so that’s what we made happen,” Davis-Schmit said. “It is such an honor to be a part of that wish experience for that child. You realize even though it may not cure the illness, you know what the wish experience provides for their mental well being.”

Magical as the trip was, it was almost not meant to be.


The weekend before the family left on its February vacation, Gracie was taken to the emergency room.

Her mom said it was the sickest Gracie’s ever been since being diagnosed with the inoperable condition.

“The Sunday before we left she ended up in the emergency room, and was in rough shape,” McCarthy said. “We think she had the flu, but the day we left she perked right back up and felt good. It was very concerning. We were all very nervous.”

Gracie frequently relives her favorite memories from the trip, but has largely settled back into her regular lifestyle, which is the happiest news of all for her family.

Gracie loves school — math and art class, in particular — and playing with her friends.

As the treatments advanced, her family feared she wouldn’t be able to lead a regular life, but with determination, Gracie is nearly a full-time student.

“She absolutely loves school and being around her friends,” McCarthy said. “Se had to do two weeks of homework in one day after our trip and she was always looking for those math papers and trying to pull those out first because she really enjoys math. She’s doing very well right now and is extremely healthy, active and able to go to school, which is amazing for the amount of drugs in her.”

McCarthy continued.

“A lot of people will loose academic skills because of the radiation, but she hasn’t lost anything. She still has every ability she had before.”

Gracie has been responding well to the treatment.


The swelling in the right side of her face has resided and the tumor, which was the size of a golf ball when diagnosed, is now down to the size of a large marble (though when viewing scans, Gracie insists it looks like a small mouse).

Gracie’s family is grateful she’s doing well, but is aware her situation remains severe.

“It’s an aggressive cancer to where it’s likely to come back either in the same spot or a different spot unless they can get it all gone,” McCarthy said. “We’re continuing to work on what we have and get it smaller and smaller. The prognosis hasn’t changed, but we’re praying for the best.”

With the unknown constantly looming ahead, Gracie enjoys every moment of her life, from herFloridavacation right down to her homework.


Her family has the same perspective, and is already planning Gracie’s next trip, which will be to the Big Apple.

“She wants to go see the Statue of Liberty so we decided we’re just going to do it on our own and see what she wants to see inNew York,” McCarthy said. “It’s important to us now that what she wants to do, she’s able to do while she’s healthy. The tumor is shrinking. And the radiation on her brain has left no side effects, and that’s the most important thing.

“She’s just really living life to the fullest that she can.”

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