PITTSBURGH — When Lilliana Durante visits UPMC Children's Hospital, she's better known as Princess Lilli. She fills the oncology halls with laughter, weather high heels and a fantastic princess dress each week as she fights and beats cancer.
Lilli's unexpected journey began in 2018 when she woke up one morning with a crossed eye. Doctors found a tumor along the nerve of her eye. Her parents, Courtney and Robert Durante, were nervous and afraid. They warned Lilli's brother Mason that the next year would be filled with trips to Children's Hospital.
"We talked about it and we said, 'Lilli has a sick eye that she needs to get medicine for it,'" said Courtney.
Lilli took it in stride and said she wanted to wear her pretty pink dress to her first appointment. That was the start of a very special tradition.
"She wanted to wear one to the next appointment and then the following appointment," Courtney said.
Lilli wears a different princess dress to each chemotherapy appointment. She has close to 50 dresses to choose from.
Dr. James Felker is Lilli's neuro-oncologist. He's been with the family since the beginning and has seen every dress.
"What we do here can be sad. It can be scary," Felker said. "But to have a child that you see come in with a smile all the time, dressed up in a princess dress and have an attitude like, 'Hey, this is not so bad. You can do this too,' and that really does feed into other kids."
Lilli will her treatments in February. She said she plans to give her princess dresses to other children who need a little Lilli magic.
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