The Christmas season begins a new year of contemplating the lessons gifted to us at this time of year -- courage, bravery, giving, hope, peace, love, what we can do to help others, how we can put others before ourselves, how we can use our gifts and talents for good to help the world -- and then it's up to us to take the time to reflect and then change.

Another part of life, from above, that we learn about at this time of year are miracles and faith.

When you have faith, there's no reason to fear.

5-year-old Charlotte Scalese of Barnegat has found bravery, courage, determination, love, peace, hope, and above all faith in God which is something the whole family shares.

Her mom, Laura Scalese, shared Charlotte's story on Sunday morning as a guest on 'Shore Time with Vin and Dave' on 94.3 The Point and 105.7 The Hawk.

"In 2019, she was just about to turn two-years old -- she was a little sick, under the weather with a virus. I took her to a nearby hospital in Monmouth County (where the family lived at the time) and one question from the E.R. doctor kind of got to another question and she kind of asked a question that had nothing to do with why I was there -- she had asked 'has she had a recent infection, can we do a scan of one of her organs?' and I said 'sure' and it was in that scan that showed there was something that should not be there -- a mass," Laura said.

From there, Charlotte's care was transferred at the request of the doctor to RWJ, all while Laura and her husband were also caring for their 12-week-old son.

"When they scanned her more to do further testing, they found out it was a cancer called neuroblastoma -- this would be classified as a Stage 4 based on its size," Laura said. "It wasn't a great outcome."

(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
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There would have to be medical protocols and treatment to follow the diagnoses and Laura requested it be done at CHOP in Philadelphia.

"From there, they kind of laid out what the game-plan looks like and it was about 16-18 months of quite a rigorous treatment -- that was five rounds of chemotherapy to shrink this very large tumor that was kind of pushing against -- close to her spine, her heart -- it wasn't on anything, it didn't metastasize throughout her body, but, it was quite large for such a small little child," Laura said. "They decided to shrink it and then go ahead and remove the tumor."

There was much more that had to be done though.

"After they removed about 90-percent of the tumor, which is great, they said the next phase is even more intense. So, she would endure two stem cell transplants, which are even high toxic doses of chemotherapy to kind of shut down your body and then revive your body with your own stem cells," Laura said.

There were 12 rounds of radiation that followed at UPenn and then 6 rounds of immunotherapy.

(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
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"We ended all of her treatment, she was officially declared in remission July of 2020, so, we were so grateful and praising God after such a really intense time that she not only made it out alive and through it, but in remission for a cancer that has a high rate of relapse, so, we were grateful," Laura said.

Laura said that she stayed in remission for two years and was living the normal kid life.

"She was living life as a normal 3-year-old going into pre-school -- 4-year-old kid, we were just so grateful for everyday that we could take her to pre-school and do normal kid things, we never take those things for granted," Laura said.

Charlotte would continue to go to doctors and get checkups and more specifically, scans every 12-weeks.

"In July (of 2022), they had said it returned," Laura said.

Charlotte went for an MRI and a biopsy, and it confirmed the cancer was back.

"Before they even gave us options, I said, you know what, I don't want to hear anything, this, for us as a family of people who believe in Jesus, I want to pray about it, it's very important that we do the right thing according to what God wants us to do," Laura said.

(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
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Through prayer and discernment of what was happening and the options for treatment that was the best plan for Charlotte, Laura and her husband and family found the answer.

"Seeing what Charlotte had already gone through and living an intense life -- a dysfunctional intense trauma life for 16-18 months -- I'm not so quick to jump right back into it," Laura said. "In that time of praying, she was actually at school, she was in her kindergarten classroom and her teachers were reaching out to me, I think once or twice that particular week in saying Charlotte's complaining of some back pain. I'm like, huh, this could just be a simple pediatric problem, or it could be something more, but, given this new news, I just didn't know, but I really felt like the Holy Spirit was saying 'take her to the hospital, take her to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia'."

Laura then touched base with Charlotte's oncologist to set up an appointment.

"Then we found out that the tumor that we've been watching that confirmed it was cancer -- this time it has actually started to grow into her spine," Laura said. "It was pushing on her spinal column."

(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
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There was an emergency surgery performed three days later, Laura said, and doctors removed three thoracic vertebrae from her back.

"Thank God it was a very successful surgery, she was able to remove a lot of that pressure, but in that time, we still continued to pray to say 'okay, what do we do, what's the right next thing' and we felt a quickening of getting a second opinion and that's where Sloan (Kettering) came in," Laura said.

They went to see a surgeon who Laura said deals with neuroblastoma cases.

He indicated to Laura that if all were to go well with tests and scanning and treatment, Charlotte would have a great chance at long term survival.

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Currently, as we sit here in mid-December, Charlotte has undergone a couple rounds of chemotherapy/immunotherapy as future treatment and surgery are weighed by the doctors and those treating Charlotte.

"She's doing great, she's recovering from the last round that she just got, it kind of knocks you down, knocks you out a little bit, but kids are so resilient," Laura said.

You can listen to the full conversation with Laura Scalese on 'Shore Time with Vin and Dave' from Sunday morning and learn how you can help, right here.

Conversation Part One:

Conversation Part Two:

(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
(Photo Courtesy: Laura Scalese)
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