Eight-year-old Natalia Ricabal had a big smile on her face as she was about to enter "Night for Natalia," a recent benefit concert on her behalf at Lutz Preparatory School.
Despite a long day for the second-grader who battles bone cancer and who had just gone through radiation treatment, she said was grateful to the school "that they helped us, and that they're supporting us through it."
Natalia was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, last August. During a visit to the doctor, her mother, Amy Ricabal, pointed out that Natalia had developed "a big mass with heat, redness and pain, excruciating pain" on her leg.
And it has been a tough journey since her diagnosis. Natalia has undergone three months of aggressive chemotherapy to shrink the tumor in her left leg before limb-salvage surgery in November. While the bone healed, she took a six-week break from chemotherapy and her hair started growing back, but then the process of chemotherapy started all over again and will continue until June or July.
It's unclear when Natalia will be able to walk again, or when the cast that she has had since November will be removed. Once it is removed, she will need a brace and physical therapy.
"She wants to bust out of that cast and run," her mother said.
Diane Farmer, principal of Lutz Prep, said Natalia comes in as much as she can when she's not doing treatment. She also attends classes through Skype.
"She hasn't stopped smiling," Farmer said. "Every time we see her she just lights up. She's just a very special little girl."
Natalia once worried that other children would make fun of her because of her wheelchair and hair loss. "So for her to be able to Skype and see the love of the kids through the computer, and that they love her, and they want to see her and they can't wait, she finally did say that she wanted to start going to school, which is a big thing for her," Ricabal said. "She's come in for a couple of hours. She feels loved, so that's amazing."
As medical bills stack up, Ricabal has had to stop working her full-time job to take care of her daughter.
"So we had to make some adjustments, and obviously, the worst part is watching your daughter's health deteriorate as she takes in these chemo and chemicals and stuff," she said. "But see how she's smiling. You wouldn't think it otherwise, so it's just a miracle in itself right there that God just gives us the strength."
The benefit included a presentation of a teddy bear, flowers and a rainbow blanket for Natalia.
Five Alarm Fire, a young grass roots band, played inspirational songs at the outdoor concert, but the highlight was one they made just for Natalia, Every Rainbow's a Smile.
Michael Giorgi, who helped form the band and played the opening set, introduced the show by saying that "the concert is a benefit for her, but she has already given back so much more to us. Let's give back to her."
The band has two members, vocalist Zach Pillai and drummer Andrew Pillai, who go to school with Natalia.
"She always has a smile on her face, and she's just very strong and brave," Zach Pillai said. "So she told us her story, and we just got inspired."