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Valley cancer survivor's book, authored with siblings, comes to life through song

"The Dinosaur Disaster," written by the four Porter siblings, went from words to song and was performed for the family on stage this week.

MESA, Ariz. — A white-covered book with a red, hand-drawn dinosaur is what’s being exchanged between the four Porter siblings' hands.

“Everything is going great until the dragon puppies transformed into dinosaurs,” Tate Porter reads from a page on the family’s couch.

The story was written through the imaginations of the siblings: Tate, Josie, Evie and Mack.

It’s a story about a journey of dragon puppies, dinosaurs, a pool in a living room, dino nuggets, cotton candy, and more.

“It has nothing to do with cancer. It’s just fun,” mom, Dani Porter, said of the book.

'Macky Strong'

It’s a story of make-believe after real life brought something unimaginable to the Porter family two years ago when Mack was 2 years old.

It was January of 2021 when Dani said Mack was sick and not getting better. After Mack woke up from a nap and struggled to breathe, she took him to the ER.

Dani said they were about to leave the ER after a breathing treatment, believing it was asthma when a physician assistant had a chest X-ray taken.

“There was this large mass in Mack’s chest pushing on his airway, his arteries, lungs, his heart,” Dani Porter said. “The doctor comes in, and he just walked straight past me up to Mack, and he just put his hand on Mack’s cheek and looked at him. And  he just said, ‘I'm so sorry, you have to do this, buddy.’"

While Mack was admitted to the pediatric ICU that day, getting the diagnosis from the NIH: Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma took weeks.

“He has a marker called ALK-negative that makes it even more so rare,” Dani Porter said.

Mack went through six rounds of chemo, Dani said, plus hospital stays and more scans.

“He very much embodies ‘Macky Strong,’” Dani Porter said.

In July 2021, Dani said they found out Mack was in remission. Continuing to go through scans and see his pediatric oncologist, that Dani said Mack’s become friends with.

“Mack’s favorite thing to do when we go is to prank Dr. (Michael) Henry and come up with a new prank to take every time. And Dr. Henry perfectly plays into whatever prank Mack is pulling,” Dani said.

Over the next several years, Mack will continue to go for scans checking for any cancer.

“We’re just super grateful that he’s here, that he’s healthy,” Dani said.

'The Dinosaur Disaster' turned into music

The siblings got the chance to write the story with the help of Sing Me A Story and Make A Wish Arizona was something Porter said the kids loved.

The story, ‘"The Dinosaur Disaster," was given to ASU music composition student Addison Hill, who turned the words into song.

“I was really careful on what, you know, to keep from his original story and make sure it was truly like his voice,” Hill said.

Playing the chorale piece solo on a piano in one of the music school’s practice rooms, Hill navigates the catchy chorus and, upon occasion, includes a dinosaur roar.

The story comes to life on stage 

But one dinosaur roar wasn’t enough to help the story come to life. That’s where the 12 students in the concert choir at the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics come in.

“Usually when you perform you perform for an audience, but we're performing for a family in particular for this and we want to make it meaningful,” the choir director at the school, Jennifer McNeal, said.

The group has been practicing for months, preparing to perform it during the school’s voice department performance Thursday night.  

“To give the song justice,” Sophomore Cassidy Butler said.

“I really hope that this brings them a sense of hope,” senior Max Davidson said.

During the penultimate performance of the evening, a student read the book for the standing-room-only auditorium, then the choir sang about the dragon puppies, cotton candy, dino nuggets, and more.

The final “roar” of the song was not only performed by the students on stage but by Mack in the audience too.

“I hope he remembers he has Mack's magical mansion to look forward to whenever he's having a rough day,” Davidson said.

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