NORTHGLENN, Colo. — It was a day 5-year-old Mary Stegmueller and her family will never forget — the day Cinderella arrived at their home in a horse-drawn carriage to invite them to visit her castle at Disney World.
Mary has already lived through more than most adults. In October, she was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare, incurable, and inoperable form of a brain tumor.
"Probably one of the hardest days that I think we've ever had," Mary's father Bobby Stegmueller said. "When we were diagnosed in October, we weren't sure that we were all going to be together for Christmas."
Doctors told the family that typically, children with DIPG live for six to nine months after the diagnosis. The Stegmuellers said around 10% of children make it to two years.
As part of her treatment, Mary recently endured 30 rounds of radiation over six weeks.
"The second she would get home from radiation, from being put under every day, anesthesia, she'd be like, 'okay, let's go to school,'" said Kristin Stegmueller, Mary's mother.
Mary is fighting the cancer with everything she has, trying experimental CAR T-cell therapy in California. In March, she was there for 35 days, with 26 days of in-patient care. Following that round of treatment, Mary's mom said there was a 10% reduction in her brain tumor.
"Treatments are going well right now, but we don't want to live in any kind of regret," Bobby Stegmueller said.
Mary will be going back to California soon for round two of her treatment.
"(The treatment has) given Mary the chance to fight. A lot of kids that get this diagnosis don't get this opportunity to fight," Bobby Stegmueller said. "So, no matter what happens, we're so proud of her. She's been so brave, and she's had so much support and so many people standing behind her, and if this is another step to cures for the future, then it's all worth it."
Mary qualifies for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but COVID-19 stood in the way of her dream. She asked the foundation if she could visit Cinderella's castle at Disney World, but the organization is not currently allowing travel wishes amid the pandemic.
"With everything going on with her, I've been so concerned that she wouldn't get her wish, because I didn't want to let her down," Kristin Stegmueller said.
When Brittnie Kreutzer heard Mary's story, she knew she could help.
Kreutzer is the membership director for Agent of Excellence, a group of real estate professionals who love Disney. The organization started in Colorado Springs and now stretches across the nation and into Canada.
In about three hours, Kreutzer said the 172 members had raised over $6,000 to send Mary and her family to Disney World.
"We don't have the red tape, so we can do what Make-A-Wish can't do right now, and that is provide the pixie dust and the magic that these families need," Kreutzer said.
The trip is planned for mid-June, and Mary's parents knew about that element of the surprise. However, they had no idea Cinderella would be coming into their neighborhood with a horse-drawn carriage to invite Mary to her castle.
"I was floored," Kristin Stegmueller said. "That was more than we could have ever asked for, dreamed of, hoped for. To do all this for a family she had never met, people around the country, helping support her, is just huge."
As another surprise, Kreutzer recruited Corrine Kurtz to sew a dress Mary herself had designed. The dress appears on T-shirts that Mary wore during her treatment that have now been turned into a fundraiser. The Stegmuellers say the proceeds go toward Mary's medical expenses.
Mary's mom said her daughter is excited to wear the dress at her next doctor's appointment and round of treatment, in addition to the Disney World trip.
"It has so much more meaning than anything that could be bought in the store," Kurtz said.
Kurtz felt a personal connection with the Stegmuellers, even though she had never met them. "
"My son was diagnosed with a brain tumor in September, and when (Kreutzer) asked me to make it, I just felt like I had to," Krutz said. "We don't know them, but we pray."
Mary has started assembling bags filled with all of the essentials for other children going through her same treatment in California.
Click here to follow along with Mary's story.
This story was originally published by Colette Bordelon on Scripps station KOAA in Colorado Springs, Colorado.