12-year-old with brain tumour lives out cheerleading dream
Almost one year after doctors diagnosed her with an inoperable brain tumour, 12-year-old Natasha Gould defied the odds and lived out her dream of performing at a cheer competition.
Gould joined the Calgary Stars Gymnastics and Cheerleading Club on Saturday as an honorary member, and performed alongside her teammates at the Stampede City Showdown Competition at Mount Royal University.
The performance came nearly one year after her tumour sidelined her from cheer tryouts last spring.
Doctors diagnosed her with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas, or DIPG, on May 1, 2015.
According to the Boston Children's Hospital, DIPGs are "highly aggressive" and "difficult to treat." The tumours are found at the base of the brain, and mostly affect children between the ages of five and nine, the hospital says.
In Gould's case, the tumour and radiation treatments affected the left side of her body, limiting her ability to cheer.
"The realization that she wasn't going to be able to try out because the brain tumour caused weakness in her left side was devastating," her mother, Saskia Gould, said.
Most children with DIPGs only live nine to 18 months after doctors first detect the tumour. And, at the time of Natasha's diagnosis, the Stampede City Showdown Competition seemed far away.
But in February, Calgary Stars owner and coach Jody Poirier decided to offer Gould an honorary spot on the team.
"We had an opportunity to come into Natasha's life and do something for her," Poirier said. "Little did we know she would be the one impacting us."
So, Gould began training with the team and befriending the other cheerleaders.
Over the weeks, she began to inspire her teammates and coaches alike, Poirier said.
"I can't even describe the impact that she's given to the team, the lessons, the fight in her," Poirier said. "It'll last with us a lifetime."
On Saturday, all of Gould's hard work paid off.
She performed a routine in front of a loudly-cheering audience, and her teammates hoisted the 12-year-old up as she waved and blew kisses to the crowd.
For her parents, sitting in the audience was an emotional experience.
"To see this happen is just fantastic," her father, Bill Gould, said. "And I have to say, it's a little bittersweet."
After living out her own dream, the young girl now says she hopes she can inspire others to do the same.
"I like encouraging people to just go for their dreams," she said.
With files from CTV Calgary