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In royal fashion, 5-year-old takes on cancer fight

'Beauty and the Beast' procession in carriage, cheered on by 1,000 neighbors, strangers
Cindy Georg, Houston Chronicle
Updated 1:06 am, Thursday, February 20, 2014

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  • Claire Lankford was carried by Prince Charming (aka her dad, Kevin) down a red carpet during a surprise "Princess Day" parade for the 5-year-old in  League City on Feb. 19. Claire suffered from alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer.  Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / © 2014 Houston Chronicle

    Claire Lankford was carried by Prince Charming (aka her dad, Kevin) down a red carpet during a surprise "Princess Day" parade for the 5-year-old in League City on Feb. 19. Claire suffered from alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer.

    Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle

 

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Princess Claire emerged in a flouncy, buttercup ball gown like the one worn by the Disney princess, Belle, from "Beauty and the Beast."

And so did her mother, who was dressed as a grown-up version of the fairy-tale royal.

Prince Charming - her father's alias for Wednesday afternoon - stood in the front yard of their League City home wearing a tuxedo and gallantly awaiting his ladies.

This was the picture-perfect day when the heavens smiled on a little girl who's had a rough time fighting cancer for almost half of her life.

Claire Lankford, who turned 5 on Feb. 12, wanted to be a princess. She wanted to have her carriage. She wanted a parade.

And just after 5 p.m., her front door flung open, revealing the princess-for-the-day to her supporters.

The belle of the ball stepped onto a "red carpet" made from butcher paper and strewn with multicolored rose petals. Cheerleaders shaking pom-poms lined the sidewalk from her front door to the curb, where she was lifted onto the carriage drawn by a white horse.

With a processional led by a police cruiser and a marching drum corps, Princess Claire toured the neighborhood three times - flicking her wrists back and forth like a real-life Cinderella taught her. Throngs of supporters - more than 1,000 people young and old - lined the streets of the family's Bay Colony subdivision holding signs and banners. On each new trip around the loop, the carriage picked up other royals large and small to ride along with the little lady of honor.

When everything was over one hour later, Princess Claire retired to her quarters to play as bouquets galore decorated her front lawn.

She received those flowers when she can appreciate them - making a "good day" one of the very best of her short life.

"I can't believe people would want to come out and celebrate my child … a little girl many people didn't know just to make her dream possible," said Trish Lankford, 39, principal at Dickinson ISD's Hughes Road Elementary School. "It's such a blessing to see what the community can do when they come together. It's overwhelming and I feel so honored and blessed that people know my child's name."

Gerri Gonzales and her family didn't know the Lankfords.

"We just came out to do what we could to make this day special," said Gonzales, 45, of Santa Fe, who attended with her 6-year-old daughter Peyton Gonzales - a pint-size Snow White - and 24-year-old daughter Jessica Sonier, who lives in the Bay Colony neighborhood.

The afternoon celebrated Claire and her fight.

In the summer of 2012, the girl was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the connective tissue that most often arises as tumors in the large muscles of the trunk, arms, and legs. She received nearly a year of chemotherapy and weeks of radiation to her chest and spine. Scans have been clear since last summer, but the monster came back early this year.

"Claire's cancer has returned," Trish Lankford confirmed as she reflected on the experience with her husband, Kevin Lankford, an assistant principal at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe ISD. "We take it day by day and we just know that God has blessed us with a miracle for today and this is something that we will forever cherish. I'm so grateful that people would come out and give us this memory."