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Superhero surprise for Utah child with brain cancer

Posted at 8:51 AM, Dec 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-27 17:04:12-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Christmas came early for five-year-old Aspen Agnew.

A few months ago, she received a special photo of her dressed up like a superhero -- she loved it because it reminded her of Halloween.

The photo shoot experience was not just for making family memories, but also included a message.

"I’m batgirl," said Aspen.

"Why is she your favorite," Ryan Agnew, Aspen's father, responded.

"Because she’s strong and she does the right thing," said Aspen.

Strong like Aspen, a five-year-old who's gone through more than any person should

In 2020, Aspen was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma or DIPG. It's a rare form of brain cancer that's terminal.

"It’s a cancer and it is spreading," said Agnew. "We’re trying to stop that, keep as happy and healthy, and have a good quality life in the process."

FOX 13 met with the Agnew's in Washington D.C. back in September.

The Agnew's were attending a conference with other families, doctors, and researchers dealing with DIPG. The disease is rare and the Agnews have been left with a lot of unknowns.

"I’m sick of donating to funerals," said Agnew. "I want to start donating to college funds so, that’s really where this needs to be at some point."

Since then, Aspen's doctors have found two more tumors -- one in her spine and another in her head.

Agnew said they have a doctor's appointment scheduled for the beginning of 2022. Doctors will do bloodwork to see if the medications are working. Aspen will also have an MRI to see how her new tumors are progressing

Close to Halloween, Aspen's grandmother reached out to a local photographer named Josh Rossi.

Rossi was born in Italy, where he fell in love with art. Rossi spent most of his childhood in Utah, where he now lives with his wife and kids.

Rossi has worked with Disney, Adobe, local musicians like Lindsy Sterling and The Piano Guys.

Yet Rossi's most impactful project has been his Justice League series -- photoshoots with kids suffering from debilitating diseases.

"We started to create our own superhero," said Rossi. "Taking an epic photo that looks like a movie and they get to feel like that person."

Some of the kids included in the photoshoots had previously been bullied at school for their disabilities. Rossi said after the kids showed the photo to those around them, the bullies apologized.

"It empowers them so much that it literally changes their course in life," said Rossi.

Real superheroes, finally feeling like it.

When Rossi heard from Aspen's grandmother, he couldn't turn down the opportunity to help her feel that way too.

"I’ve had to turn down so many people for these photoshoots because I can’t do all of them," said Rossi. "With Aspen, I said done, let’s do it right away."

Rossi said as soon as she put on the costume, Aspen was all smiles.

"It was really an amazing experience and kind of humbling how he dropped everything and prioritized us, making Aspen happy for that one little bit," said Agnew.

When FOX 13 asked Aspen what the photo meant to her, she said "it makes me feel special."