BUCKEYE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A young Buckeye girl battling cancer received an afternoon she’ll never forget from Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad.
Zaliyah, 6, was diagnosed with stage four cancer this year.
“She smashed her hand in a door and a big bump appeared and we thought it was a hematoma. When we went to have it removed, it turned out it was a cancerous tumor. Cancer, stage four,” said Zaliyah’s mother Monick.
Teachers at the kindergartner’s school wrote to Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad, detailing the financial stress Zaliyah’s family faces by driving back and forth from Buckeye for lengthy stays at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
“As a school, we’ve been rallying to help Zaliyah," said Zaliyah's teacher, Melissa. "We’re all on team Zaliyah. We’re all cheering for her."
Due to aggressive chemotherapy, Zaliyah’s immune system is so fragile she can’t return to school or even the public playground by the family’s home. An aunt told Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad that they learned the one thing the family wanted for Zaliyah was a playset for their backyard.
After buying a deluxe outdoor playset, the Surprise Squad was left with two challenges: how to distract the family for the day without raising suspicion and how to assemble it.
To keep this surprise a secret, Wildlife World Zoo offered the family the ultimate VIP experience, complete with rides and a private meet and greets with animals.
While the family was away, Steve Chesney, owner of Professional Swing Set Installers and a team of volunteers from program sponsor Valley Toyota Dealers assembled the set in the backyard of the family’s home.
For Chesney, Zaliyah’s surprise is personal.
“I lost my wife to cancer and I have a daughter myself. Once I heard the story, I was like there is no way I am going to miss this opportunity,” he said.
After it was assembled, the set was decorated with a dazzling array of Disney merchandise fit for a princess. A crowd of family and friends gathered and greeted the returning family with a big shout of “Surprise!” to reveal the new playground.
Zaliyah’s family fought to hold back tears as their excited little girl started playing with a huge smile.
“Did you have any idea when you got sent off early this morning that you would come home to something like this?” said 3TV anchor Nicole Crites.
“No, not at all,” said Monick.
“We are so blessed. Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much,” she said.
“There’s [sic] not enough words,” said Anthony, Zaliyah’s father.
“It started out as a good day at the zoo. Amazing, amazing, amazing day at the zoo. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. And then we came into this and it’s a lot,” said the young father as he choked up.
“It kind of hits home because I have a 5-year-old at home,” said Jesse, one of the Valley Toyota Dealer volunteers.
“Seeing her face right when she walked in the door and we said ‘surprise’, I will never forget that,” said Austin, another Valley Toyota Dealer Volunteer.
Crites had one more surprise for the family.
“This is $1,500 for your medical expenses. We know there’s a lot of financial strains that come from taking care of your little angel and so, we want to do what we can to try and ease that for you,” she said.
“She’s actually due for a blood transfusion this next week because of the chemo. You know, because of how strong it’s getting, how aggressive everything is going," said Anthony. "We just try to enjoy every minute that we have with her happy, healthy, not in so much pain. It’s stuff like this that just keeps us going. Kind of take it day by day, minute by minute."
The young father looked on as Zaliyah and her cousins played on the new playset.
“What was your favorite part about the zoo today?’ Crites asked Zaliyah.
“The rides and all the animals,” said the little girl.
“Which animal did you love the most?” asked Crites.
“I got to meet a fox and she’s my favorite animal,“ exclaimed Zaliyah.
“Whenever we feel sad, we just look at her and if she’s not sad, why should we be?” Monick explained. “It’s like, let’s just do this."
As Zaliyah looked at a special unicorn cake created for her special day, she hugged her parents in sheer joy.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much,” Monick said as she wiped tears from her face.
“I don’t even know what to say right now. It feels like a dream,” said Anthony.
Professional Swing Set Installers, Wildlife World Zoo and volunteers from Valley Toyota Dealers contributed to this special surprise.
Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad is powered by your Valley Toyota Dealers.