Between dance classes and her social life at school, six-year old Leah is the happiest little princess ever. She’s chipper and bubbly, loving and smart, and even shows a bit of that dramatic attitude you might expect from royalty.
As a child, Leah looked up to nurses and cheerleaders, wanting to put her happy nature to work just like them when she got older. Everything she set her mind to was full of life and light. So when Leah’s outlook began to dim, struggling through lethargic days that dragged her down to a shadow of her old energy – something had to be done.
Leah’s lack of energy soon began to show physically, manifesting in fevers and pains that she couldn’t seem to shake. Leah began a cycle of doctor visits and her mother thought each time that maybe this time her symptoms would stay away for good –but soon enough, they would be back. It was when Leah went in for a follow up at a new medical center with fresh eyes that the mystery began to unravel. A simple brush of her hip as she was being looked over had her jumping out of her seat in pain and shock. “It could just be growing pains –,” the doctors told them, referring to the strangely sensitive way Leah reacted to the brief touch to her hip. But they didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
Hospital scans soon gave them their answers which were worse than feared: stage 4 cancer. All those fevers and the slow drain of Leah’s energy were finally explainable, but even though her family had answers, there was fear now too. Taking a page from Leah’s bright outlook, they threw themselves straight into her recovery. When they began, Leah’s treatments seemed quick and painless, but it was the aftermath that truly drained her. Leah never knew what she was in store for when they arrived at the hospital. Every treatment was different and was even more difficult for her as time in the hospital stretched on but finally, there seemed to be an end in sight. With radiation and one last surgery for removal, her treatments were successful and she was finally stable.
It was Leah’s social worker that recommended Leah to Make-A-Wish® and once she was approved for a wish, she was ecstatic. At first Leah asked for another trip to Disney, remembering it as a happy time in her life. But when her wish granters told her that she could wish for anything she wanted-anything at all-her mind began to change. She was a huge fan of Zendaya’s tv shows and movies on Disney channel and she couldn’t imagine a more perfect opportunity to meet her hero. If she could have anything at all … it would be to meet Zendaya! Leah’s growing excitement began to bring her familiar smiles back to her face. Instead of “soon I will have to go back in for more treatment,” Leah’s life took a turn towards, “soon I will meet one of my heroes.” Motivation to keep moving forward had never come easier than once Leah knew her wish was going to come true.
But picturing your heroes and actually meeting them are very different things. When Leah finally got the chance to introduce herself, she became shy and star-struck, saying “I can’t just walk up to her!” Even before she warmed up and started showing her regular bubbly personality, Zendaya was just as sweet back to her. Being on the sets she had only ever seen on TV, meeting the cast of her favorite shows, even just being in California and going to Universal Studios was more than Leah could have ever dreamed for herself. To have gone through every struggle illness could throw at her, and still end up living out her dreams with a smile beaming from her face was more than anyone could have asked of her.
Even now Leah asks to go back to California just to be in that place that brought her the first joys after such long disappointments, but another important inspiration came out of her trip: she wants to follow in her hero’s footsteps. After seeing the excitement of the stars and sets, Leah decided she wants to pursue acting as she gets older. Seeing Zendaya acting on set when before she had only seen the final product on TV made a lasting impression on her. “She’s certainly dramatic enough,” Leah’s mom says with a laugh, reminiscent of the princess attitude Leah once displayed beginning to shine through once again. She’s doing much better now with her outlook once again as bright as the future lying ahead of her. The cycle of doctor’s visits was broken with one final visit…not to the hospital but to a sneak peek into her future dreams!