BELLA Howard relishes school, but has missed four months as she deals with an aggressive brain tumour.
Her mum Sarah Higginbottom said she was touched when she was told Bella's teachers and friends at St Michael's Primary School Nelson Bay wanted to throw her a surprise, but would never have expected what they had organised.
"It's absolutely amazing, you don't think there's that many kind people out there until something like this happens to a family and everyone just comes together as a community," she said, alongside her partner Gene Howard and Gene's mother Mariza. Younger daughter Mia was at daycare.
"The school doing this for Bella means absolutely the world to her.
"She misses everyone at school, she misses her classroom, she understands she can't come back because she gets tired easily.
"But to do this for her, she's going to remember this. I knew they'd have balloons and bubbles, but I didn't think it would be this extreme."
Bella, seven, arrived at the school on Friday in a Vespa scooter sidecar and was welcomed with her name spelt out on the school fence, arches of balloons, a rainbow chalk footpath and bubbles.
Teachers and 275 students were waiting in the hall, which was decorated with student artwork.
They presented Bella with drawings and gifts, including a trip in a stretch Hummer to Taronga Zoo where the family will stay overnight.
The school sang to her and her year one class threw her a party.
"The school has just been amazing from the start, ever since we found out they've just been here for us, they've even brought food over for us every couple of days," Ms Higginbottom said.
"It makes all of us feel good that they're doing this for Bella and giving her the best times, the happiest times, while she's still here."
Principal Helen Bourne said the school organised the event "to brighten Bella's days".
"We want her to know she is loved by her school community and that she is special to us."
Ms Higginbottom said Bella had been having headaches and what appeared to be clumsiness for a short time before the school called to advise she appeared disorientated.
She was taken to John Hunter Hospital for an MRI on April 29, which revealed a large tumour in her brain.
"It was the worst day possible," she said.
"They said there's nothing they could do.
"They gave us three options and none of them were good."
The family refused to accept this prognosis and contacted neurosurgeon Charlie Teo, who operated on May 6 to remove 80 per cent of the tumour.
Bella bounced back and had a follow up scan in August. But the tumour had regrown and spread to other parts of her brain.
"It's just not right," Ms Higginbottom said.
"It should be me, it's absolutely unfair to put this on a seven-year-old girl. It's heartbreaking.
"I just can't imagine life without her, I can't. It's just wrong."
She said the family wanted to "do everything and anything we can to make her the happiest while she's still here", including on short getaways. "Every day is about her."
Bella has not had chemotherapy or radiation, or associated side-effects. She still feels well and is able to walk.
"From the moment she gets up to the moment she goes to bed she's on the go. She's a strong, happy, intelligent, smart girl."
Ms Higginbottom said she has to try to be tough too.
"I've got to be, if I break down, that's it - I'll be broken down.
"I can't do that. I've just got to be there for her.
"At night-time when she's asleep I can break down."
The family is holding out for a miracle.
"Maybe she might get better," she said.
"She's still going and that there is still giving me hope.
"She remembers everything, she has not lost any part of her memory.
"She'll be giving this one hell of a fight... she is one strong girl and she will not give up on anything, so she will be fighting this."
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