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Disney helps young cancer patients become princesses for a day

TAMPA

Five little girls gathered in a circle for story time. They were meeting with Belle, from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Toy crowns sat atop each girl's head.

A volunteer stepped in to fix 3-year-old Izzy Dean's crown when it started to fall off.

"Can I help you?" Belle asked, her voice the sound of sugar, spice and everything nice.

"I can do it," Izzy said, plucking it off the ground and adjusting it on her head.

The girls all have leukemia and are patients at hospitals in the Tampa Bay area. Chemotherapy, long hospital stays and sometimes surgery consume their days.

But Wednesday was different. For a few hours, they each became royalty.

The families arrived Wednesday morning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the girls changed into the princess costume of their choice and got their makeup done. After a few stories with Belle, who is in Tampa as part of the Disney on Ice "Rockin' Ever After" show at the Times Forum this weekend, they had a tea party.

For the girls, it was a break from treatment. For their families, it was a moment to breathe, to take pictures and watch their kids be kids.

Mindy Joy, 3, bounded into the room wearing a pink ruffled dress.

"Where are the princesses?" she asked, taking in the trays of cupcakes and balloons dotting the room. Volunteers led her to a rack of dresses and matching shoes.

"You're going to be the princess," the volunteers told her.

Callie Peck, 3, of Lutz dressed as Cinderella. Doctors diagnosed her in February 2012. She has about another year of treatment, and monthly checks for the next four years.

"I don't even know how to word it," her dad, Scott Peck, 34, said of Wednesday's experience. "You look for anything to make your life normal."

Shannon Fenton's daughter, Jillian, 4, received her diagnosis in April last year. Complications and seizures in her first month of treatment sent her to the ICU. She spent about a week each month in the hospital until December.

"It's been hard," said Fenton, 37, of Mulberry. "There is no normal."

Jillian became Sleeping Beauty on Wednesday. She woke up at 5:30 a.m. and has been talking about the special princess day for weeks, her mom said.

Christine Dean watched her daughter, Izzy, decorate picture frames. Izzy wore Rapunzel's white wedding gown. Doctors diagnosed her two years ago, setting off a routine of monthly hospital visits, nightly chemo pills and a surgery to fix the port in her chest.

"It was a long, scary road in the beginning," said Dean, 25, of New Port Richey. "Fun stuff like this breaks it up."

Other parents agreed.

"It does ease the pain a bit," said Mindy's mom, Kassandra Joy, 27, of Largo.

Mindy dressed as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, her costume topped with a purple boa.

It's a shock in the beginning, Joy said, but then they deal with it.

Lisa Noury, who works for Vistra Communications, has volunteered with the Tampa chapter of the For a Day Foundation, which puts together special events and activities in hospitals for kids with serious illnesses.

Noury and Leah Herring, director of For a Day Tampa, reached out to Disney and Feld Entertainment, the company producing the ice show, and the Children's Cancer Center in Tampa to put the day together.

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at ksheehan@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2453.

Disney helps young cancer patients become princesses for a day 05/15/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 3:44pm]
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