Girl tests out dream career at Brookfield Zoo

March 10, 2011 8:33:23 PM PST
ABC7 first introduced the public to Zoe Meier a couple months ago when she became one of the first patients to undergo proton therapy at a new center in west suburban Warrenville. While that treatment may be cutting edge, Zoe recently got a shot of something else: good old fashioned encouragement.

Zoe is testing the waters of what she describes as her dream career.

"Yes, I do want to be a dolphin trainer," Zoe told ABC7.

The spunky 10-year-old has every right to pursue her dreams. Since the age of two and a half she's been battling brain cancer.

Several months ago she began proton therapy treatments. It's an alternative to standard radiation that instead uses beams of protons to deliver radiation directly to the tumors while sparing healthy tissue and organs. The hope is it will minimize side effects and keep the tumor from coming back.

She's done with the treatments and so far doctors say there's no sign of cancer.

"We are all looking for a positive future for her," said Carl Meier, father.

So when the staff at Brookfield Zoo learned that Zoe loved dolphins and hoped to one day work with them, a special behind-the-scenes training session was arranged for the family.

"We just thought this would be a great way to show her that there's a whole world out there that she can tap into and keep fighting to keep working toward her future and her dreams," said Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals, Brookfield Zoo.

Evidence is mounting that feelings can influence good health outcomes. But how do you measure the therapeutic benefit of a wonderful time?

The Meiers say for them positive experiences are part of the healing process.

"I think all of these experiences help her to feel better about herself," said Carl Meier.

"It's therapeutic for the whole family to actually get a chance to see their child with a smile on their face and getting a chance to do something not everybody gets to do," said Stacey.

So what is it like to get up close and personal with a dolphin?

"I never touched a dolphin and it felt like real rubber," said Zoe.

"We hope she lives a long life and to see her enjoy things when she's grown up. Laying in a hospital bed watching TV...this is an amazing transformation," said Stacey.

"I know I'm lucky," said Zoe.

The proton center in Warrenville recently added a new piece of equipment that allows the radiation beam to be directed at tumors from any angle. A spokesperson says this will allow for the treatment of more challenging tumors.

There are many doctors who say there's still no proof yet proton therapy is any better than traditional radiation.