When Nina Allred’s 10-year-old daughter Emma had a low fever and chills, she thought she just had a bad cold.
But when they went to Disney World in September 2013 – their very first trip as a family – she only got worse.
After they returned to their home in Twin Falls, Idaho, Emma started to complain of stomach aches. When Nina checked to see where it was tender, she felt a hard mass.
“Not knowing what was normal, I took her to the ER,” Nina tells PEOPLE. “They did a CT scan and said that she had a mass in her abdomen the size of a tissue box. The fever was probably because the mass was so huge it was pressing onto her lungs.”
Doctors quickly determined that Emma had ovarian cancer and had to have her right ovary removed.
“It’s quite rare,” Emma’s doctor, Nathan Meeker of St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute, tells PEOPLE. “Ovarian tumors represent only about 1 percent of all tumors seen in the pediatric population.”
For the next three months, Emma underwent three rounds of chemotherapy and although she started to lose her hair, she never lost her humor and great attitude.
“I’m very OCD, so when she had a few strands of hair left on her head, I asked her if she wanted me to shave it,” Nina says. “She told me, ‘No mom, I’m leaving them just for you because I know how they drive you crazy.’ ”
When patients are first diagnosed with the type of tumor Emma had — a germ cell tumor of the ovary — chemotherapy and surgery is the typical course of treatment.
“These tumors are very sensitive to chemotherapy,” Dr. Meeker says, “and the overall cure rate is somewhere around 93 percent.”
After her final treatment on Dec. 18, 2013, Emma was cancer free until July 2015, when Dr. Meeker found another large cancerous tumor in her lower abdomen during a routine check-up. There was a chance she might have to have a hysterectomy because the tumor was surrounding her reproductive organs and colon.
But that following October, doctors were able to successfully remove the tumor without having to touch her organs, but a small amount of cancer was still on her pelvis.
“She underwent a pretty extensive surgery. The tumor was 10 inches in its ongest diameter,” says Dr. Meeker. “We talked about how to proceed after because it’s so rare in kids. It’s debatable whether chemotherapy at that point improves overall cure rates for children.”
After discussing it with Emma and her family, they decided that instead of chemotherapy, they’d move forward with continued surveillance.
“They mentioned her freezing her eggs, but thankfully we didn’t have to go that route,” says Nina. “You shouldn’t have to ask your 12-year-old if she wants to have kids. It was scary.”
When Emma, now 13, was approached by the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Idaho earlier this year, she didn’t know what she wanted her wish to be.
“She could have had a shopping spree, gone anywhere or met anyone she wanted to,” says Nina. “They [Make-A-Wish] tell you it’s okay to be selfish. Her siblings wanted her to go shopping at an electronic store.”
Nina suggested going to Disney World again, so this time she could have more fun and do things her family wouldn’t be able to afford.
After thinking about it for a few weeks, Emma told her mom she knew exactly what she wanted.
“She said, ‘Mom, I know what I want to wish for. I want to help the homeless,’ ” she says. “I was taken aback, proud and humbled. She has a once in a lifetime opportunity to do just about anything and she wants to to use it for the homeless. That’s just amazing.”
Adds Dr. Meeker, “Emma’s wish is truly remarkable. I have not seen anything like it.”
They quickly got to planning and on Oct. 1 at City Park in Twin Falls, Emma’s wish came true. They hosted a food drive to benefit local shelters and collected more than 13,000 pounds of food. Local organizations and a grocery store also contributed to the drive.
“It felt very good to help them,” Emma tells PEOPLE. “In reality, the more you give, the more people smile. It helps their day.
“If I can help someone, I’ll help.”
The community came together for the event and also enjoyed a big picnic with hotdogs, cotton candy, face painting, balloons and live music.
“It was an amazing day,” says Nina, who has two other children. “We were overwhelmed in a very good way. I shouldn’t be surprised that this was her wish because she’s always helped people. The first thing I’d think of is me. Where can I go? Who can I meet? Not to think of others.”
Emma is currently in remission, but after a recent check up, Dr. Meeker discovered another mass on the surface of her liver, which will be removed on Nov. 1. He’s hoping that it’s benign.
“Now we just have to wait,” he says. “If we were to see cancerous elements, that wouldn’t be a good sign.”
Despite everything, Dr. Meeker says Emma’s handled everything remarkably well.
“It was difficult when she initially had the relapse because we were a year in and thought it’d be okay,” he says. “It was a setback for her, but even then she handled it with great courage. She’s only had the attitude that we’re going to fight this thing.”
Adds Nina, “Just believing that God is in control and that he knows what he’s doing is a big help. It’s something that we have no control over.”