Alannah: A girl with heart

Alannah Gillis Photo: Shari Fleming

God doesn’t give me more than I can handle.

That’s what 7-year-old Alannah Gillis said when she found out she had Stage IV neuroblastoma. And that’s what she had printed on custom rubber wristbands. Wristbands that she went on to sell in an effort to raise money for the Star Studio at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. That act of kindness would prove to be the first of many for this amazing and generous young girl.

“I like to be nice,” Alannah said.

Through treatment, which has subsequently stripped Alannah’s head bald, prevented her from riding a bike because of low blood counts and kept her from enjoying first grade while she spends extended periods hospitalized, Alannah is thinking of others first.

“She is just beyond thoughtful. The word ‘thoughtful’ doesn’t even cover it,” said her mom, Angela Peterson.

A mother’s persistence

Alannah’s diagnosis didn’t come easily, or quickly.

At the end of the school year, she came home one day complaining about leg pain, Peterson said. Her eyes were ashen underneath. Instead of playing outdoors on the trampoline or riding her bike, she was inside using the family’s gaming system.

“It was like she never slept. She was always tired,” Peterson said. “This was not my child.”

Alannah dared The Dude from the Star Studio to bungee jump at the Minnesota State Fair. He accepted the challenge.

So began Peterson’s quest for answers. Alannah saw three different providers who had different diagnoses. None were cancer.

The first treated Alannah for a bladder infection. The second said she had anemia and recommended supplements and to return in six weeks to be re-tested.

Peterson wasn’t convinced. She took Alannah to a third provider and asked her – mom to mom – to figure out what was wrong. A series of blood tests indicated Alannah’s blood counts “were out of whack,” Peterson said.

They were told to go to Children’s – more than two hours away from their Wisconsin home – stat. After a series of tests, Peterson got the answer she needed but no mother wants for her daughter. She had cancer.

“Knowing is so much better than having questions,” Peterson said.

Alannah has retained her sense of humor through it all.

While Vicki Schaefers, Alannah’s nurse practitioner, talked with Peterson about the need for a blood transfusion, Alannah quipped, “You do know I am highly allergic to platelets!”

She has “intelligence that belies her age,” Schaefers said.

Acts of kindness

In the weeks since learning she has cancer, a community where many hadn’t heard the word neuroblastoma has rallied around Alannah, Peterson said.

On Sept. 22 – the day after Alannah’s seventh birthday – three casinos in her county raised approximately $98,000 to help pay for medical bills, a car for Peterson because she doesn’t have one, and a trip for Alannah’s family, Peterson said.

Approximately $20,000 will go to a county program for holiday gifts for children, Peterson said. Alannah insisted.

Alannah Gillis Photo: Shari Fleming

“Since her diagnosis, she has received more things than she could have imagined, but it has not changed her attitude toward others. She thinks of them first and foremost,” Schaefers said. “She is all about giving back, and this is only the beginning. She is an inspiration to all of us, and we will talk about her for years to come!”

A few days after the benefit, good news was in store for Alannah.

She returned to Children’s for a bone marrow biopsy and more chemo. During her stay, she got her biopsy results. Fifteen percent of Alannah’s cells were cancerous, down from 100 percent when she was diagnosed, Peterson said.

“The best news yet,” Peterson said.

Hours within getting the news, Alannah sat in her hospital bed awaiting more medicine. Her face was painted in shades of pink, purple, green and gold to resemble her favorite animal – a cat.

The warm, lovable, funny little girl got serious for a moment.

“I wish I knew why this happened,” she said.

No one knows, Peterson answered.

“It’s one thing when it’s happening to an adult who’s lived a long life; it’s another when it’s happening to a child who’s just beginning their life,” Peterson said.

That’s why they’ve agreed to participate in research that might help other kids and create better outcomes, Peterson said.

It’s yet another act of kindness.

“She has the biggest heart of any kid and adult I know,” Peterson said.

16 thoughts on “Alannah: A girl with heart

  1. Suzanne Moldan

    This girl is great! She has the right idea. Loved the comment that she likes to be nice. Was obviously raised well. Prayers and best wishes are being sent her way.

  2. Christina Rainey

    I am so glad to hear you are doing better Alannah! You are such a wonderful little girl with a great big heart and a wonderful spirit. I would love to buy some of the bracelets you made to help the cause. Please have your mom or Grandma Sherry get in touch with me and send me the info. Keep on fighting the good fight. My love and prayers coming your way!!

    Your cousin,

    Chrissy Rainey

  3. Terry Furtado

    Hello Miss Gillis…you look so pretty in all these pics…I think of you often and wish I could meet you and give you a huge hug…..Please know you are in my prayers, Stay strong and be brave, you are VERY SPECIAL and I’m sure you have a Guardian Angel looking out for you. TTYS

  4. Wanda Stevens

    I am Auntie Wanda. I have been around Steve and Angie since they were children themselves. I have seen them in all stages of their lives, a lot of it I experienced with them. As is usual when you grow, there are happy days and not so happy days and downright nasty days, we all went through it. Now, they are parents, awesome parents. The fruit of their labors proves it. I believe God has chosen their family for a special mission and His head messenger is a pure and beautiful 7 yr. old child, Alannah. We may not understand it right now, but whatever He has planned, I feel I am very fortunate and thankful to be so close as to see and experience it. My heart and prayers are always with them, I love them dearly.

  5. Susan Armstrong

    Alannah! LOVE your pictures!! Thanks for sharing. It was nice to see you at the benefit in Webster. It looked like you were having fun and I bet it was a very busy day. Our prayers sent out to you.

  6. Krista

    Miss Alannah Mary…you sure have taught us a lot latley and continue to do…you are an inspiration for all of us!! Keep up your amazing work….you are doing a terrific job!! Stay strong and keep your beautiful heart!! We love you soooo much!! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

  7. Diane Gallagher

    I love this little girl! We had so much fun face painting. I thought I was going to paint her face and she said “oh no I want to do you!” I put my hands out expecting her to be satisfied with my hands…nope! After a few attempts she ended up doing a large heart on my cheek and one on my hand. Perfection! She then preceded to do a very elaborate cat on her face. I’m guessing the same in this article. Thanks for playing Alannah! You certainly are a very special young lady with an amazing attitude!

  8. alec gillis

    I am uncle Alec I want to thank children’s for the love and care they give alannah and the appritiation they gave alannah. she is a wonderful,smart and amazing little girl. I love her dearly and hope one day to have the strength and courage that she has. Thank you all for the prayers we really appritiate them and they also seem to be working!!

    Sincerely Alec

  9. Barb Tonn

    Dear Amazing Alannah!
    God has chosen you to show others how to be kind, generous and a wonderful child of God! You are a blessing and inspiration to all!! May you continue to teach others how God wants us to live! I will pray for you!
    God Bless you and give you peace!

  10. Tiffany Williams

    I am Auntie Tiff, every word in the story I just read about Alannah are the exact things I have been blessed to endure with her for the past 7 yrs!Ever since Alannah was old enough to look me in my eyes, I felt she has an old soul,wise well beyond her years!AMAZING,AMAZING,AMAZING!!!Thoughtful,Talented,Smart,Funny,Polite…… and the list could go on for miles! Alannah Mary Gillis, I have been the luckiest auntie in the world to have a niece like you! You are and always will be the strongest person I know,and I know you are the one who has taught me to be a much stronger person than I ever thought I could be! Thank you Alannah, thank you for teaching me the way! I absolutely love the pictures of you (especially the one with you and your BFF “THE DUDE”)I love you more than anything! Love, Auntie Tiff (o:

  11. Cabby

    Beautiful little girl with a beautiful heart. Such a touching story I nearly cried! Prayers for you Alannah and your family.

  12. Noreen

    I see you have made friends with my granddaughter Abby Olson. How great is that !! I’m sure she will be happy to be sharing thnigs with you. You are a great ilttle girl and storng and brave like Abby. We will put you on our prayer list. God Bless you and Keep you strong. John & Noreen.

  13. Terry Furtado

    Hey Princess, Miss seeing your pretty face..hope ur doing better, it’s almost time for Santa to visit….stay strong and God bless you <3

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