Luna’s Story: Beating Brain Cancer with a Little Bit of Paint and Positivity

In summer of 2021, Luna, 11 at the time, had just returned from a vacation to Spain with her family when everything changed. Suddenly she started experiencing abnormal symptoms like constant and painful headaches, vomiting, lack of sleep, and even trouble with some fine motor skills like writing. This was especially concerning for an art lover like Luna who is a pro at creating beauty with pens, markers and paintbrushes. “At first I didn’t know what was going on,” said Luna, now 13. “I felt like it was something big, but I didn’t exactly know what.”

After a few weeks of the troubling symptoms, Luna’s father rushed her to their local hospital where a large mass was discovered on the left side of her brain. She was immediately transferred to Lurie Children’s Brain Tumor Program for more specialized care. Having a very narrow understanding of what cancer was at the time, Luna became frightened by the unknown.  

“I got scared,” Luna said. “Everyone was talking serious, and I started to get anxious and sad even though they were trying to distract me.”

In good hands

The mass would turn out to be medulloblastoma: a cancerous brain tumor that starts in the lower back part of the brain. The diagnosis was devastating for her parents to hear. “I was broken,” Luna’s father, Victor, said.

And for Luna, her confusion and uncertainty grew as those initial days of diagnosis went on. “Of course, I had never been through this, so I had no idea what to do, feel or think,” she said. “But honestly, I remember feeling safe.”

Her parents shared that feeling. Despite the life-changing news, Victor and Eva remember feeling confident in the presence of Lurie Children’s brain tumor experts like Dr. Michael DeCuypere, Neurosurgery. They felt reassured that their daughter who, before this experience seemed perfectly healthy and happy, was in good hands. “I had a good feeling with this team,” Victor said.

Their intuition was spot on and carried them through Luna’s challenging treatment. Whether it was the care team’s gentle nature, helping Luna to “not even feel a pinch,” or their comfort to calm and relax her before surgery, Luna felt the burden of her diagnosis get a little bit lighter thanks to these meaningful interactions. “I always thought, Dr. DeCuypere saved my life, and I got to be with the best nurses and doctors, so there’s really nothing that can happen to me,” she said.

Following a successful surgery, Luna began a six-week series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, followed by nine additional months of chemo. Her parents say she was so brave through it all.

Comfort in creativity

Luna finished her many months of chemo to the tune of “The Final Countdown” by Europe on her last car ride to the hospital, and soon after her family was ecstatic to receive clear scans and finally be able to ring the special Lurie Children’s end-of-chemo bell with pride and joy. Luna said ringing the bell that day felt like she kicked her tumor with a high heel and squished it!

As an artist, painting was something that got Luna through her difficult moments in the hospital. “It really calms me down to organize things, and I love painting things outside,” she said. “I love nature and animals.” She even painted a special “thank you” picture for her surgeon, Dr. DeCuypere. “Art is a way of expressing your feelings,” she said.

Something else that served her well was the positive attitude she tried her best to maintain, even on the hardest days. Luna says she learned that while it’s perfectly okay to cry, it made her feel good to focus on having positive energy every day, because it kept her optimistic.

Today Luna is doing remarkably well. She’s on a three-month check-up basis with her brain tumor team and is back to doing things she loves like drama club and getting ready to enjoy summer at the beach.

For other kids who might be going through treatment or a difficult diagnosis, Luna is sending a bit of her positive spirit with this message: “You got this! You can do anything. Believe in yourself.”

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