Community rallies to give Palatine girl with cancer unforgettable Christmas
Rosie Colucci has had a dozen brain surgeries, one for each year of her life.
Cancerous tumors in the Palatine girl's brain are inoperable, but doctors sometimes need to unblock liquid to flow through the shunt in her head. The last surgery required surgeons to re-enter her head three times.
Since she was a toddler, her life has been a succession of long hospital stays, chemotherapy, hair loss, emergency room visits and MRIs. There's been good news: Signs that clinical chemotherapy trials have stabilized tumors behind each of her eyes. And there's been bad: a recent recurrence of an ominous tumor in the middle of her brain, the part that controls body temperature, hunger and other vital functions.
"It's never normal," her mother, JoAnne Colucci, said. "Our life has been one crisis after another. Some families can fight it together. Some families -- it breaks them apart."
This Christmas has been different for the single mom and her two daughters. JoAnne, Rosie and her 16-year-old sister, Bella, could be mistaken for TV game show winners. They've gotten the keys to a new car, a free trip to Florida and a party with presents and friends.
It's a welcome relief from this fall, when Rosie had four surgeries and spent 21 days hospitalized from late October to December. Plus, they are staying put.
"It's just such a blessing because the last couple of Christmases we've moved, and we've had to live out of boxes," Rosie said.
Daily Herald readers may remember Rosie's battle with neurofibromatosis started when she was 3, when doctors diagnosed her with the disease in 2007. Within five weeks, doctors found an inoperable brain tumor and other complications, including excessive growth hormones and hydrocephalus, a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up on the brain.
Tumors have continued to develop. Currently there are four in her brain and 40 benign tumors across her body. But Rosie realized early there are lots of kids who are sick, so as she fights her own battle she raises money for research and collects toys for other kids at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.
"If she's learned anything from this journey, it's the power of one," her mother said. "She really believes if everybody gives a penny, it's going to add up."
In the same way, people from literally across the world have joined together to give the Colucci family an unforgettable Christmas.
City Limits HOG Palatine chapter raised $1,000 to throw a Christmas party for the family. Rosie has ridden with the motorcycle club at "Ride for Kids," a fundraiser for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. At the party, they made her an honorary member and gave her vest she loves, with "Rock Star Rosie" stitched in leather and a patch with a rose, of course, and a dolphin -- she loves swimming.
The family is going to the beach in Florida for eight days to start the new year thanks to the Be the Difference Foundation, a cancer awareness organization.
And Saturday, Chevrolet of Homewood gave the Colucci's a 2017 Chevy Sonic. The family won the dealership's second car giveaway contest after voters from around the world chose them from a large group of nominees in need.
"Usually our life is just one struggle after another, and we live from one crisis to another crisis," JoAnne Colucci said. "I feel like I'm living somebody else's life. It's been amazing."
Rosie said she believes researchers will find a cure, and she plans to continue donating toward the cause -- even in death, if it comes to that. She decided years ago to donate her body to science after watching other friends with brain cancer do the same. And for kids who are still battling cancer, Rosie has advice.
"Keep fighting," she said. "Never, ever give up and don't stop fighting, and believe in the power of prayer."
Donate to Rosie's effort to raise money for awareness and charities at www.dreamfund.com.