At two and a half years old, and almost three months before her brother would be born, our daughter, Gianna, was diagnosed with cancer.
Gianna was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when a blood test during a routine pediatric appointment turned into an ER visit for further testing. ALL is a quickly progressing cancer that starts in the bone marrow, when immature cells overproduce and cannot properly fight infection. Treatment began immediately and we spent our first night on the 9th floor as a cancer family. Gianna was given blood and platelets and had surgery three days later to place a port for chemo. After ten days inpatient, we went home to navigate at home medications, including oral chemo. At the time, we were visiting Children’s Hospital weekly for bloodwork and chemo. Gianna was frequently nauseous and usually too tired to stay awake for the bedtime stories she used to love to hear. She napped frequently and wasn’t the active kid she used to be.
Gianna’s brother was born less than three months into her treatment. She was able to meet her brother, Luca, after a chemo appointment.
Over a year after Gianna’s diagnosis, an amazing friend told us about Lending Hearts and suggested we look into it. Our first in-person event was to the Pittsburgh Opera. We appreciated that our whole family was invited to attend. Gianna was mesmerized by the opera "princesses," as she called them, and enjoyed holding their hands while going on a behind the scenes tour of the opera. It was a special day where we could have fun as a family.
The following month, the Covid-19 pandemic began and we were back to living the life of staying home and away from others. While many other organizations froze their operations, Lending Hearts never stopped. Monthly craft kits for the kids from Lending Hearts became something we all got excited about.
About 8 months into the pandemic, and 802 days since her cancer diagnosis, Gianna rang the end of chemo bell at Children’s Hospital!
It has now been more than a year since Gianna took her last chemo pill and we are finally starting to feel like life doesn’t revolve around cancer and visiting the hospital. Gianna no longer has a port and her visits for bloodwork are now months apart. Our kindergartner loves building Legos with her brother and riding her bike. She loves visiting treehouses and using her imagination while exploring nature. Gianna wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
We are thrilled to be a Lending Hearts family over the last two years! We have enjoyed watching both the Pirates and Penguins win games, meeting for coffee, riding the Gateway Clipper with Santa, and going ice skating for the first time. Thanks to Lending Hearts, our family has unique, local, family-oriented events to look forward to each month!
-The Oliva Family
ICYMI, at the 2022 Lending Hearts Gala, Jennifer Oliva shared her daughter, Gianna, and their family's journey with cancer, COVID and coming to Lending Hearts.
The day before the Gala, Gianna turned 6 years old! Further below is the video of her being surprised with a birthday cake and all the guests singing Happy Birthday to her.