She was laughing so hard that she had to stop and catch her breath before diving back under the water. An hour later, we still couldn't get Amelia out of the swimming pool. "Just 5 more minutes," she pleaded, her wide, aqua blue eyes smiled back at us. Even her older brother couldn't keep up with her then.

That was the summer of 2006. She had just turned six years old. We had spent some time on the beach, visiting with family and squeezing out the last precious days of August before the start of another school year. Amelia was looking forward to school, to being with her friends, and to even more books. Just two months later though, she was fighting for her life.

Confident, engaging, smiling from ear to ear, she walked into the classroom on the first day of the first grade. With crayons and clay, wide-eyed in her favorite outfit, she was ready. Later, during that very first week and seemingly out of the blue, she vomited. She came home early, but she said she felt fine. No fever, no stomachache, no patience . . . back to school she went after one day's rest.

"Tell me a story, Mommy." How many times have we heard that sweet request? How many stories have been told? Stories of princesses and paupers, snow slides and penguins, daring puppies and brave bears, stories of relatives and places, poems and prayers, magnificent castles and endangered animals . . . the list is near endless. Of Amelia too, there are many wonderful stories. One story, the one that brings us to this page, often sadly eclipses the others.

We thought that she just ate something that didn't agree with her, or maybe she had a stomach virus. All seemed well for a couple of days, until she vomited again. What ensued was a roller coaster ride of doctors' visits, misdiagnosis, medicines and tests. Weeks passed as her doctors' focused on what they believed was a gastrointestinal problem. By then, Amelia was vomiting almost everyday, but she had no other symptoms . . . no fever, no headaches, no dizziness, no stomachaches, no difficulty walking, no real loss of appetite, no pain. She was tired and not quite herself, some of the time.

"You have to be patient," one specialist told us. "It could take weeks before her digestive system is back to normal." Then, one beautiful morning in mid October she slept late and didn't want to get up. She smiled at me and said, "I'm so cozy. I just want to stay in bed all day." For almost anyone other than our bouncy, little girl I would have just smiled back. Instead, I was alarmed. We returned to the emergency room for the second time in five days.

Determined to find a diagnosis that made more sense, we waited patiently. Amelia watched "Pocahontas" on a small screen TV. I endured the criticism of staff members who felt that there were other children with more pressing medical needs . . . more examinations, more conversations, more waiting. After several hours, a CAT scan was finally ordered. Not long after that, our lives were completely transformed. We suddenly entered into a foreign world . . . shocking, confusing, unbelievable. Amelia had a brain tumor.

To have known Amelia is to know, above all, that she loved animals . . . dogs, cats, and bunnies, of course, but goats, manatees, and anteaters, too. She once wrote a book about a sloth entitled, "Slothy Saves the Day." When her neurosurgeon first spoke with us on that strange October evening in 2006, it was Amelia's fondness of animals that made us smile again. The doctor introduced himself to Amelia and explained the following morning's brain surgery so gently, so simply. When finished, he asked her if she had any questions. She thought for a quick moment and asked, "Do you have any pets?"

In many ways, Amelia was a typical ten year old. In many other ways, her difficult journey set her apart. Her diagnosis of Medulloblastoma, a rare highly malignant tumor, led her to undergo surgery, radiation, eights rounds of chemotherapy, and physical therapy. For the remainder of 2006 and throughout 2007, her unshakeable determination and courage helped her to overcome both the cancer and the cure. In the fall of 2008, without skipping a grade, Amelia entered the third grade. We had started to relax, to feel like guilty victors, to once again embrace "normal".

Amelia was swimming, running, and swinging on the monkey bars again. She had started, slowly, to come from behind the wall that the cancer had erected. She was tired, but gaining strength everyday. She was starting to outgrow her clothes. And, she had abandoned her hats in favor of her new, short Audrey Hepburn-like hairstyle.

Amelia's extra energy led her to resume work on her collages, journals, and other projects. During the previous summer, her newly acquired camera gave rise to yet another hobby . . . taking photographs . . . of animals, of course! One trip to the Bronx Zoo yielded more than 300 photos alone. "Why so many of the antelope?" we asked. "They're just too cute," she answered.

In November of 2008, a followup brain MRI revealed a small white mark. It couldn't be. There are several explanations for a mark of this nature. About 80 to 85% of children who are diagnosed with Medulloblastoma and undergo the treatment that Amelia had undergone remain free of the cancer for at least five years. Incredulously, in January of 2009, additional MRIs confirmed that the disease had relapsed.

Without question, Amelia was the most empathetic person that I have ever known. One day, when she was just four years old, we were out walking in a suburban area just outside the city. Ginkgo and Honey Locust trees lined the streets. Red brick houses with very small front lawns faced the narrow sidewalks. Not many people were around on that sunny afternoon, but we could hear voices emanating from the porch of one of the houses. When we got closer, we could see several people were excitedly talking and looking into a large, elegant bird cage. Two stunning doves were proudly perched inside. "Look! Look at the beautiful birds!" we exclaimed to Amelia. She only bowed her head. "Trapped," she replied.

Amelia resumed treatment that January, just after we learned of the relapse. From that day forward, she fought a battle as relentless as the disease. In many ways, this cancer, this monster, traped her and held her captive. Much of our time together was lost in the fight.

Still, in every way possible, she struggled to rise above it. Through innocence or strength, it did not touch her core. She forged on with her photography, her journals, her schoolwork. She delighted in her visits to local parks, zoos, and aquariums. She persevered with projects and research. She always continued to find laughter in the small stuff, comfort in her fluffy animal friends, and joy in the world around her.