Students from throughout the Mid-Columbia will begin arriving at their schools to begin a new academic year Tuesday. Their backpacks will be filled with new notebooks and pencils and maybe a packed lunch.
Emilia Pocasangre, however, won't get to show off her Dora the Explorer backpack until Thursday, when she and other kindergartners in the Kennewick School District begin school.
But unlike other kindergartners, Emilia is getting a do-over.
The 6-year-old missed almost an entire year of school last year as she received treatment for a rare form of brain tumor.
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Her condition has improved and she's expected rejoin the students at Cascade Elementary School.
The school's students and teachers themselves will be adjusting to a temporary home at the Fruitland School building as their school is renovated this year.
More treatment awaits Emilia, but she and her family are glad she'll be able to re-enter life and just be a kid.
"It feels like we're back into the normal routine," said Cynthia Pocasangre, her mother.
Fighting the tumor
Doctors found the tumor in Emilia's head last summer. The tumor, a pilocytic astrocytoma, usually is considered benign, but is slow-growing and presses on the brain.
Part of the tumor was removed soon after it was found, but not all of it could be. She's had numerous surgeries and was expected to undergo a form of radiation therapy at the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
However, Hugo Pocasangre, Emilia's father, said doctors at the cancer center thought it too early in Emilia's treatment to go with the radiation treatment, which can have severe side effects.
The doctors instead recommended a 10-week chemotherapy treatment that worked for others with Emilia's type of tumor. The same held true for Emilia, as a brain scan after the treatment showed the tumor shrank.
"The doctor was really happy because he hadn't seen something like that in 10 weeks (of treatment)," her father said.
The improvement made it possible for the family to take a weeklong trip to Florida last week sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Emilia along with her parents, brother Brandon, 18, and the son of Hugo's and Cynthia older daughter, visited Disney World, Universal Studios and just spent time relaxing together after a year of visiting hospitals and being separated.
The family stayed at Give Kids The World Village, a nonprofit resort where families receive free meals and lodging and visits from Disney characters.
"My favorite is Daisy (Duck)," Emilia said.
Family and friends have said Emilia maintained her natural cheerfulness and energy throughout her treatment, but there were times when the tumor and the treatments took their toll. Now, though, she's becoming more and more like her old self, as evidenced by the family's trip.
"She didn't want to get out of the swimming pool," her father said, with her mother adding, "We'd promise her, 'When we get back (from the theme parks), we'll go back to the pool.'"
Treatments to continue
Cynthia Pocasangre said she considered keeping Emilia at home again this year and home-schooling her. Her daughter's chemotherapy has weakened her immune system, putting her at risk of infection.
But Emilia's doctors haven't discouraged the 6-year-old's return to school, and she wants to go back. She still will have to work in regular doctor visits as her chemotherapy starts up again in early September.
"She's going to have to miss maybe one day a week," Hugo Pocasangre said.
Debbie Lockard was Emilia's teacher last year and said she's looking forward to having her pupil back again. She saw the 6-year-old in June at Brandon's high school graduation party and noted that Emilia looked thin, but still was the bright girl she'd come to know.
"She was still Emilia, though. She was still energetic," Lockard said.
Emilia's parents will meet with Lockard this next week to discuss her return to school, but that hasn't stopped Lockard from making sure everything is ready for the little girl, from having a designated mailbox in the classroom to having a coat hook dedicated to her in the hall.
Emilia will be experiencing much of kindergarten for the first time, but the rest of Cascade's students, teachers and staff also will be trying to find their groove in their temporary building near Kennewick High School.
Getting ready for school
Emilia isn't the only one starting school again this fall.
Brandon, who graduated from Kennewick High School in early June, will attend Columbia Basin College in late September, possibly pursuing a degree in sociology, before possibly moving on to Washington State University's Pullman campus. His American Legion baseball team came in second in the state tournament and he's thinking playing baseball for the Hawks.
A big part of the reason for attending CBC was to be close to his family, which he spent so much of his senior year separated from while his parents took Emilia for treatment in Seattle.
"I'm a freshman in college but it's like I get to do my senior year over again," Brandon said.
And while the days have brightened as Emilia has improved, the family said they continue to see an outpouring of community support. People have left messages for Cynthia Pocasangre where she works, asking about Emilia. They also say they see newspaper clippings of stories about her everywhere they go.
For now, the plan is to continue Emilia's treatment. She'll have another brain scan in October to determine if the tumor is continuing to shrink with her chemotherapy. If it is, more treatment is possible. Her parents said there have been cases where the tumors shrink and stay small to a point where patients go on to normal lives.
But that's not on Emilia's mind. She's interested in picking out her outfits, playing with family and friends, and petting her new cockatiel, Tweety, whom she may take to school for show-and-tell.
"I couldn't hold him at first, because he didn't know me," she said. "Now he knows me."