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"I'm brave and I'm strong": 5-year-old overcomes years of painful cancer treatments

Arianna celebrates 1 year cancer-free, now raising money for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation
Arianna celebrates 1 year post-cancer drugs, now raising money for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation 04:20

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- When you're in the fight for your life, it takes fighting words to go to battle. 

"I'm brave and I'm strong and I can do all things," Arianna says.

That mantra is what helped 5-year-old Arianna survive cancer.

She is a fierce firecracker now, but it wasn't long ago that this spirited little girl was weak and confined to a hospital bed.

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Hines family

In July 2020, at 21 months old and battling stage 4 neuroblastoma, Arianna met the couple who would become her parents.

"We did a FaceTime call and we met this ray of light. And she just is sunshine incarnate," said Leah Hines, Arianna's mother. 

Leah and Dave Hines had applied to foster a child and didn't hesitate to take in baby Arianna – whose cancer had just a 50% survival rate.

Attacking cancer is a challenge Dave knows firsthand, as a brain cancer survivor himself.

"Having been through it, it's super, super important to have that parental support and someone to walk you through it and be your advocate when you're in the medical system," Dave Hines said. 

"I can tell you without a doubt that if my mother had not been by my side for the entirety of that experience, I would not have pulled through... hearing that Ari was in the hospital in a similar situation and alone, obviously is a problem."

Arianna went through rounds of aggressive, high-dose chemotherapy treatments, including a special immunotherapy that targets pain receptors. 

The side effects of the medicine were so excruciating, Arianna had to be sedated. 

"It's horrible. There's not a kind way to say it," said Arianna's mom, Leah. "If you've seen what these children have been through, it's devastating."

The Hines family would later leave their home in North Carolina to try another treatment only offered at a hospital in New York City.

But that medicine was also too much for Arianna's body to handle, so they had to switch to another drug. 

Arianna would then begin a two-year trial of oral drugs.

And a few months later, in October of 2021 – another milestone – being officially adopted as Leah and Dave's daughter. 

"She's a miracle, but she is truly, truly a gift," said mom Leah. "For us, it is an absolute privilege and an honor to get to be her parents."

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Hines family

Today, Arianna is thriving and she's had no cancer medications for one year. 

"Ari is leading a pretty normal, happy, healthy life," said mom Leah. "We know a lot of children with her diagnosis, we don't get to celebrate birthdays with. So we're really, really thankful for her continued health."

The Hines family is now paying it forward with their own lemonade stand, raising money for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation -- supporting other cancer families.

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