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Human Interest

Dad Shares Emotional Dance with 2-Year-Old Daughter Battling Cancer: 'She's Full of Life'

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On the last day of her first round of cancer treatment, a toddler was given a sweet surprise from her dancing dad — and the moment was captured in a now-viral video.

Two-year-old Phoenix Thompson began chemotherapy in early August after she was diagnosed with leukemia at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Doctors believe Phoenix may have a rare form of the blood cancer known as juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML), which can cause infections, anemia and bleeding. Treatment for this aggressive form of cancer typically involves multiple rounds of chemotherapy and an eventual bone marrow transplant, which means Phoenix may only be at the beginning of a long road to recovery. Fortunately, she has the support of a determined and loving family to help her through this challenging time.

“I keep calling it ‘survival mode’, I’m just in that mode and I don’t really break out of it,” mom Christina Thompson tells PEOPLE. “I just think it’s just too much to deal with.”

So far, Phoenix has done her best to brighten the days of those around her despite the situation.

“She’s full of life and full of energy; she’s the only kid that gets out of her room here and goes and plays with everybody,” adds Christina, 30. “She’s a hundred miles an hour, really. She has a lot of personality.”

Brett and Christina Thompson with their five children
Courtesy Christina Thompson

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So when Phoenix finally reached the last day of her first round of chemotherapy on Aug. 16, dad Brett Thompson knew he had to do something special to mark the occasion. Though Christina knew her husband would be driving up to visit from their home in Winder, Georgia, she didn’t quite know everything he had in store for his arrival.

While Christina and Phoenix were in the hospital room that day, a nurse casually delivered a handful of dresses left over by a “volunteer.” Because people routinely leave gifts for the children at the hospital, Christina thought nothing was out of the ordinary.

But shortly after Phoenix put on one of the glimmering dresses, Brett — dressed in a suit — made his unexpected entrance and revealed himself to be the mysterious volunteer! He then put on Tim McGraw’s “My Little Girl” and held Phoenix in his arms as they shared a slow dance together, surrounded by the stuffed animals on her bed. As they danced, Phoenix couldn’t help but smile.

“[Her reaction to it] was the biggest emotional thing for me,” Christina says, adding that Brett’s surprise wasn’t out of character for him. “He dances with them all the time, and he’s shown up to pick me up from the airport in a suit before, with a car. … He just does it to make people happy.”

Courtesy Christina Thompson

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Phoenix will be returning home from the hospital soon, and from there, the family will wait for test results to decide their next course of action. A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family with expenses, which has raised over $26,000 from nearly 450 donors.

Christina and Brett, who have four other children, have been Phoenix’s legal guardians since she was an infant. Her biological mother — a childhood friend of Christina’s — was allegedly on drugs during her pregnancy and was sent to prison shortly after giving birth. She is now in rehab and doing her best to contribute to Phoenix’s care, Christina says.

Together, they are all working to support their special little girl.

“It’s amazing to see her bond with us in general, because we are not her biological parents,” she says. “She just is so happy and I’m just glad we’ve been able to love her enough to where she is this amazing kid.”