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Young cancer fighter out of treatment options surprised with puppy

Iliana is 13 years old and out of treatment options. Her new puppy may be fewer than 3 pounds, but he's giving her the will and strength to continue the fight

ST. LOUIS — It's said you can only get knocked down so many times before you give up. Tell that to 13-year-old Iliana McCottrell. She has overcome close to 30 relapses since first being diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of only 5.

"I thought about giving up, but there always is something that makes me want to go again," she said.

Iliana recently made that statement to her mom after the pain and exhaustion from her treatments. She told 5 On Your Side’s Monica Adams she keeps fighting for her mom, her siblings and others who care for her.

Neuroblastoma has a 10% survival rate beyond one relapse. Iliana she has overcome nearly 30. A true warrior in every sense of the word. She has been called a miracle on more than on occasion.

She did admit she most recently told mom Ivie Summers she "wanted to stop chemo and radiation" and no longer look at trials. She had had enough. Imagine what goes through a parent’s mind when their baby feels it is time to give up.

"She's been fighting it this long. There's a lot of unknowns; the word fight or continuing to fight goes with neuroblastoma hand in hand," said Summers.

Credit: McCottrell family

She’s a single mother raising Iliana and her older siblings who struggles to make decisions whether to stay with her young daughter or try to work. With neuroblastoma, it's almost impossible to leave her side. The entire family feels the effects of this disease.

It was time to lift all of their spirits, most importantly Iliana's, thanks to Sydney's Soldiers Always. The organization was started after a young 8-year-old girl lost her battle with cancer in 2018. Sydney had battled with Iliana. The founder recalls their fighting spirit.

"They're just old souls,” said Dana Manley.

When Iliana was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 5, her wish to go to Disney World was fulfilled. She has fought this monster of a disease for 8 years. Sydney's Soldiers Always wanted to fulfill another wish…

…to get Iliana a puppy. A maltipoo, to be exact. (It’s a Maltese and miniature poodle.)

That wish was granted at a special “joy day.”

Iliana’s eyes filled with tears when she saw the adorable pup and realized he would be hers to own. And it was love at first sight.

Credit: Karl Lund
Iliana McCottrell and her puppy, Milo

Iliana named him Milo. She said there’s no significance behind the name; she just thought it fit. Iliana's favorite thing about him is that "he likes to cuddle." When asked whether Milo is being a good puppy, Iliana replied, “Sometimes, but sometimes he is naughty!”

He may not get any bigger than 3 pounds, but his hug holds more weight than anything to help the fight continue. It’s a fight she’s ready to continue. Iliana immediately told her mom she would continue with treatments and asked to look at more specialized trials.

“That definitely gave me another reason to keep going because if I stopped my treatments now, I wouldn’t have a lot of time with my dog!” Iliana told 5 On your Side.

She has big things to do in this world.

"I want to be an entrepreneur when I grow up. I like to be my own boss!” she said.

This kind of dog costs thousands of dollars, but not one penny came out of the family’s pocket thanks to a full donation from Puppy Spot. Sydney’s Soldiers was elated to team up with the amazing organization.

“I am so proud that this puppy gave Iliana so much momentum to get up and still move," said Manley.

Iliana is out of treatment options. Funds were raised to send her to a neuroblastoma specialist in New York, but COVID-19 canceled that. Now, more spots have been found on her spine and leg.

Her fight continues. Follow Iliana’s journey on her Facebook page, and if you can help, there is a GoFundMe page set up for donations.