When Arianna Cole joins her family aboard a Disney cruise ship Monday, one thought will be foremost in her mind.
“I just don’t want to be tumor girl,” the 16-year-old survivor of a brain tumor said Friday night during a send-off party put on by her family and many friends. “I plan to relax, have some fun, and not think about my tumor all the time.”
A West High School junior who’s endured three operations at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Cole was awarded the cruise, valued at about $10,000, by Make-A-Wish Montana. The nonprofit organization, with offices in Billings and Missoula, has granted wishes to more than 550 children in the past 30 years and has a waiting list of about 35 children with life-threatening conditions.
Make-A-Wish Montana is financed exclusively through private cash and in-kind donations.
“This cruise is the light at the end of our tunnel,” said her father, Dan. “She’s still got quite a road to recovery, but the MRIs look good, and we’re now dealing with the symptoms."
Dan’s mother, Cindy Hill, quit her job at the Open Bible Christian Center to be able to accompany her granddaughter to “between four and eight appointments every week.”
“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, of course. It’s been very hard,” she said. “But I’m grateful for the love and support we’ve been shown from people we don’t even know. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
“We all get down sometimes,” she added, “but she is absolutely amazing and very easy to take care of.”
Arianna learned of her brain tumor on June 15, 2015. The surgeries and chemotherapy have robbed her of some of her schooling, but she’s earned many of the credits she’ll need to graduate by completing online courses.
With all the social workers “who have been coming in and out of my life,” she said she may pursue that line of work once her college education is complete.
“I’ve always liked helping people with their problems, even in elementary school,” she said. “I know I want to do something that will help kids, and I’d like to help families that have a sickness. That’s hard on a kid, but it is also hard on parents.”
Arianna’s mother, Trina Rodell, a Veterans Administration nurse, said her daughter “amazes me every day” with her courage and her strong faith.
“She has gone through periods where she doesn’t know what the future holds, or if it holds anything at all,” she said. “It has all been so sad and depressing for her, so we’re grateful for the chance for her to take a cruise and see there is hope.”
“It’s the chance for her to get away and feel like she doesn’t have a chronic illness for a week,” she said. “You relax and enjoy yourself and don’t think about going to an appointment or what you have to do next. I’m going to try to do that, too, because I have a hard time doing that.”
Her father notes Arianna has been a pioneering patient in more ways than one. She’s one of only a handful of children to be given “tumor paint,” a drug that lights up the tumor to help guide the surgical team. And, as part of a clinical trial, she’s taking an experimental drug that takes the place of chemotherapy.
“Her body has been put through a heavy toll,” he said, “but she has a lot of inner strength.”