Talia is a typical 15-year-old. She’d rather be at the mall with friends or dancing in her room to Rihanna, with the music turned all the way up.
But today, she’s at Phoenix Children’s Hospital with two of her other favorite people: her stepmom Cori and Caitlin, a mental health clinician with the hospital’s Survivor Clinic. It’s a place she knows well, and one she’s come to love.
Phoenix Children’s doctors diagnosed Talia with stage 4 medulloblastoma in 2008. She was just 2 years old with inoperable, metastasized tumors all along her spine. The next 13 years would include clinical trial, chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries and life-long outpatient therapies for disabilities.
Phoenix Children’s became home for the whole family, and it’s where Talia beat cancer and grew up—eventually reaching 4’7” with the help of Phoenix Children’s endocrinologists and growth hormone therapy. But anyone who’s met the silly, confident seventh grader agrees: Talia’s destined for big, courageous things.
Talia on being herself
“I just dyed my hair purple. I didn’t want to go out in public with my short hair, but I have tie-in extensions now—I love my hair. I can do braids and ponytails and do PE and gymnastics.
I like to wear what I like to wear. I hate wearing high heels and dresses. I hate putting on makeup. If people say mean things to me, I tell them, ‘What if it was the other way around?’ And sometimes they understand.
I don’t care what people say, and I don’t judge people. I don’t care what people look like. I care if they have a good personality inside and outside.”
Cori on Talia’s 15th birthday party
“Talia wanted a neon sunset pool party. We got neon glow balls for the pool. We blasted all the speakers. We invited pretty much all her friends from her special education program at middle school. We gave the kids in her class their first party experience. It was awesome, amazing. Those kids danced. They ordered pizza twice, and ate it all. It got rowdy!
I was crying by the end of the night. My heart was exploding because I was able to help give them that experience. Talia went back to school on Monday, and all the kids were talking about how much fun they had.”
Talia on what Phoenix Children’s means to her family
“I feel like I’m home because I’ve been here for a really long time. Sometimes it feels a little weird, but I’m happy because I’ve been here for 13 years—a long time. I feel like I should wear a crown because I own the place.”
I call the Phoenix Children’s logo ‘the five hand.’ It means something in my heart and I’m comfortable here. I used to feel scared, but I came here every day to see my doctors. They’re the ones who saved my life.”
Cori on never giving up
“Talia has mornings where she doesn’t want to get out of bed. She says, ‘What’s the point? I’m never going to drive. I’m never going to live on my own. I’m never I’m never going to do all these things.’ All these never, never, nevers. And I have to hold back my emotions and be mom. I tell her, ‘The only thing we never do is give up.’
- “She’s so good at turning her own emotions around. She has that voice inside of her that says, ‘I’m never going to stop trying for all the things that I want in my life.”CoriTalia’s Stepmom
I close the door, and she gets herself together. Ten minutes later, she’s up and she’s ready to go. She’s so good at turning her own emotions around. She has that voice inside of her that says, ‘I’m never going to stop trying for all the things that I want in my life. I’m going to have a job. I’m going to drive. I’m going to live on my own regardless of what happens.’
She’s never going to stop trying. And she does that herself. She’s never going to give up. Not today. Not ever.
Talia on her advice to other kids at Phoenix Children’s
I’d tell them I understand what they’re going through. I did it when I was 2 years old. Doctors told me I’m not going to walk. I’m not going to talk. I’m not going to do anything. But I did it. I’d tell them you should believe in yourself no matter what. I did it, and they can do it too.
“I’d tell them other kids I understand what they’re going through. Doctors told me I’m not going to walk. I’m not going to talk. I’m not going to do anything. But I did it. I’d tell them you should believe in yourself no matter what. I did it, and they can do it too.“Talia