Home 5 Real-Life Stories 5 Kids with Cancer 5 Meet 2024 Ambassador Julianna: A Headstrong Kindergartener with a Beautiful Heart for Others

Meet 2024 Ambassador Julianna: A Headstrong Kindergartener with a Beautiful Heart for Others

January 12, 2024
3 min read
Julianna ambassador in tutu and bow

Julianna (a.k.a. Juju) is always on the go. This five-year-old is obsessed with Jack Sparrow, loves swimming, bike riding, dancing, baby dolls, dressing up, playing doctor, school, and church, especially worship music. She expends her energy at dance and cheer camp, and is excited to start gymnastics soon. Above all she cherishes time with her mom and dad, Courtney and Ryan, and big brothers, Hayden and Colbe.

If she wants something, she won’t stop until she gets it. Her mom, Courtney, shares, “While Juju is headstrong, she is as beautiful as she is kind. Juju is our hero.”

That determined spirit has propelled Juju through the last two years.

It all started the week of Christmas 2021. Juju started to lose her appetite and complained of stomach pain. With a history of constipation, her parents assumed that was the culprit. But as the pain became more frequent and intense, they knew it was something more. Several doctor visits and tests followed. Finally, on January 14, 2022, she was diagnosed with stage L2 neuroblastoma, meaning the tumor had not spread far from its initial location.

Julianna with ports on body, black and white photo

Julianna with various ports during treatment.

Chemotherapy started immediately at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, LA. Based on the tumor location, she was not a candidate for surgery. Fortunately, the chemotherapy reduced her tumor by more than 96%, and no additional treatment was necessary.

Fast forward to January 13, 2023 (the same Friday as the previous year), her parents received news that Juju had relapsed. This time, it was stage 3. More chemotherapy followed, along with a 12-hour surgery to resect her tumor, 14 fractions of radiation, and a stem cell harvest. This time her family traveled to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for care.

Juju has dealt with multiple surgeries for port placements and removals, feeding therapy due to food aversions, along with 20 plus sedations for all procedures. She’s also had extensive dental surgery due to the effects of chemotherapy on her teeth.

It’s been a long road, but she had her port removed last November. However, scans last month showed an unknown spot on her chest. Due to its location, Juju’s doctors feel a biopsy is too risky. She will have another round of scans in five weeks to assess next steps.

Juliana and parents stand in front of bell, holding a sign that says "You did it Julianna"

Julianna with her parents as she rings the bell, signaling the end of her treatment.

Throughout it all, Juju’s kindness, beautiful heart, and giving nature has impressed her family and medical professionals alike. She made a “juju jar” while receiving treatment in New York. When a nurse or any medical professional would exceed her expectations or impress her, or even if she just had a good chemistry with them, she would let them pick out of her juju jar.

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, her answer is simple. “I just wanna be a kid.” This is what all kids with cancer deserve!

Julianna and her family

Julianna and her family.

As Juju looks back on all she has endured, the words of her hero, Captain Jack Sparrow, seem apropos. He said, “I want you to know that I was rooting for you, mate. Know that!”

Help fund research to find cures and better treatments for kids like Julianna.