12-year-old undergoes proton therapy for brain tumor

Published: Sep. 18, 2016 at 5:47 PM CDT
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It started as a pain in her elbow, then came headaches. It ended up being a rare brain tumor. A 12-year-old girl was told she did not have long to live.

"I'm a fighter, so I just keep pushing through this and I'm getting there," said Izabella Voelker of Deschler, Nebraska. Izabella, known as Bella, says her journey began with a pain in her elbow. That was just the beginning. "Pineoblastoma, it's a very rare form of cancer."

In May, she was diagnosed with a very rare brain tumor. Her family says their entire world stopped. "There is just nothing in the world you could possibly prepare for someone saying, 'listen, your child could possibly die in the next week or two,'" said Bella's dad Ric Voelker. "There's just no way you even prepare for that type of moment."

The outlook was so hopeless, Bella went so far as to write her own will. "I planned to give my LEGOS to my sisters and my stuffed animals to my sisters. I had certain stuff that would go to certain people. It's crazy, actually."

But Bella was a fighter. On the advice of her doctors at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, her family decided to send her to Scripps Proton Therapy Center in San Diego. Proton therapy precisely targets tumors instead of exposing the rest of her body to radiation.

"With regular treatment, they would have had to radiate my spine," said Bella. "The radiation would have hit my organs as well."

She went through week after week of these intense radiation sessions. Although she was thousands of miles from home, her army of supporters was always by her side or sending love from Nebraska. It was worth it. "With the brain tumor they had gotten all of it. My spinal tap had come back clear."

Although she says there is a risk of getting a secondary cancer, so far the Proton Therapy has given her another chance at enjoying being 12 years old. "Her spirit, her ability to overcome that is just astounding," said Bella's dad.

Astounding, indeed. Once her days inside a machine were over, Bella had a daily tradition. She would come out and raiser her hands in triumph. After all, she is the definition of a fighter.

Bella's family set up a Go Fund Me account where they detail her progress. If you would like to donate, please do so at