The stories that stick with us: Remembering a girl fighting for her life

The subject line of the 2014 email was "Thank you - from a former interviewee."

The note began: "You might not remember …"

But I did remember. How could I not?

Sixteen years earlier back in 1998, I worked with photographer Mark Welsh to chronicle the journey of 8-year-old Lisa Mongillo of Arlington Heights. She had battled acute lymphocytic leukemia for more than a third of her life; she fought through years of chemo, 18 spinal taps and long days - and weeks - in the hospital. She endured a dangerous fungal infection and, at one point, heart failure.

When she was offered a Make-A-Wish trip with her family, she chose Hawaii. She wanted to see a Madagascar periwinkle, a flower used in the chemotherapy that had made her well. Lisa couldn't go all the way to the African island, but she could see - and hold - a version that grows in the Hawaiian rainforest.

I was a young mother at the time I interviewed Lisa and her parents in their home. Seeing pictures of her in treatment was heartbreaking.

Long after the piece ran, Lisa Mongillo's story stayed with me.

I thought of her often over the years, hoping she was well, that her future was bright.

Then, in 2014, she reached out, referencing the story we'd headlined "Lisa's Wish."

"While it was just one of hundreds of pieces you've written over the years, it ended up being a huge godsend for me," a now-adult Lisa wrote. "In the article, you included a fairly comprehensive account of what I went through - an account which has served as a great reference for me over the years. My memory of that time is spotty at best, but rereading your description has helped me many times to be able to reconnect with who I was and what happened to me."

Her note touched me deeply, as her cancer battle had years earlier.

Lisa went on to say she was pursuing a career in comedy and had a current show in Chicago. She invited me to check it out.

Burt Constable wrote a column about her transformation from shy cancer survivor to comic.

Once again, Mark Welsh took the photos.

Lisa Mongillo is now in her 30s, living in New York and writing plays and other pieces. Maybe one day I will get to see her work on stage. I'd really like that.

• Assistant Managing Editor Lisa Miner has worked for the Daily Herald since 1984.

  Lisa Mongillo, then 8, of Arlington Heights was treated for leukemia at a hospital in Chicago. Mark Welsh/, 1998
Lisa Miner
  Lisa Mongillo, formerly of Arlington Heights, right, is shown in 2014 working on an improvisational skit with her comedy partner, Leenie O' Connor, at the Public House Theatre in Chicago. Mark Welsh/
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