Itzel was born in December 2003 and she appeared to be growing healthy until we started noticing changes in May 2007. Itzel came down with a cold just like any other. After a few weeks my mother began to notice she was becoming pale and her stomach was beginning to swell up. We all thought she was having digestion problems but the odd thing that was most noticeable was the bleeding of her gums. She had been waking up for a few days with bleeding in the gums as though she had hit her mouth on something. We then decided to take her to her doctor. After her first doctor’s visit, her pediatrician told me the color of her skin appeared to be normal…I knew it wasn’t. I asked if they could run further tests and the doctor agreed although he acted as if I doubted his professional opinion. While Itzel was getting her blood drawn for further lab tests, my mother and I noticed that her blood appeared to be a rare color. This is when I began to worry. Her pediatrician told us they would have the test results ready in three days but he called us the following day. He told us she had a severe case of anemia and she had to be rushed to the hospital. We arrived to our local community hospital only to have more blood work done and have all tests come back normal. The E.R doctor’s recommendation was for us to go seek a second opinion and look for a new pediatrician. We then took her to another pediatrician and as soon as he saw her, he stated she either had a liver infection or had Leukemia. At that moment, I felt confused and the only thing I asked was, “She’s going to get better right?.” My mother then began to cry hysterically and that is when fear took the best of me… I didn’t know what Leukemia was. The pediatrician gave us an hour to get to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. I recalled hearing about the hospital and knew the way there but couldn’t get inside the car and begin driving.
Itzel was diagnosed May 17, 2007 with leukemia. She began to be a patient of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital the minute we walked in the emergency door and yet I didn’t comprehend what was happening. I was confused and felt incompetent. I felt as though I couldn’t do a thing to console my daughter or the rest of my family. Then and there is when I realized that my daughter was brave and I had to be strong.
I made the decision that Itzel had the right to know what was happening to her and inform her of what was to come. I felt that it was her right to listen to what the medical team at Stanford had to say and to ask questions. After all, the hospital was going to become our second home whether I liked it or not and we had to become as comfortable as possible. On our third day of our hospital stay, her oncologist came in to talk to us about a various medical procedures that would take place. The first procedure I had to explain to Itzel was her undergoing a surgical procedure where they would insert a port. I tried making it as kid friendly as possible and then explained she was having a “Butterfly” inserted to her chest to get medicine to feel better. While we were walking to the surgery room, I saw the fear in my child’s eyes but kept myself together and gained strength from within. I knew that things had to be okay as we had a long journey ahead of us.
When Itzel began her chemotherapy I was so confused with the terminology and all the different medications that were being prescribed to her. Some medications had to be given at the hospital and others had to be given at home. Some were given orally and others had to be administered through her port. At the beginning of her treatment she had to take many different medications and then she was prescribed steroids. While on the steroids, Itzel had severe cravings for salty foods such as chips and fries, and eating became her favorite thing to do. I can almost say she became obsessed with eating and did gain a lot of weight. She also began to have various symptoms with aches and pains, her hands began to swell and turn purple and then she began to lose her hair. The thing about Itzel was that she felt more beautiful and happy without her hair. She loved her hats and warm beanies. I would become sad when people would question and stare at her little bald head.
During Itzel’s treatment, our family had to make many hard decisions that would impact my entire family. My husband and I had to declare bankruptcy and lost our home. I had to leave my job to take care of Itzel and then all the financial burdens began. Although our financial situation was tough, we decided as a family to focus our energy on Itzel’s treatment and had faith that all things would work themselves out.
It was during this challenging time that we were told about Jacob’s Heart. I was at the hospital and was handed a pamphlet by my Social Worker. She suggested for me to call to obtain their services. I decided to call and found out it was exactly what we needed in our lives at that moment. Jacob’s Heart is a magical place where we feel we can walk in, be ourselves and forget about our fears and worries. Our family has found support at Jacob’s Heart as we are able to share our personal feelings and connect with other families going through the similar experiences. I can walk into their doors laughing, crying, moping around or even angry and my feelings are validated and respected. Itzel really enjoys Art From the Heart on Saturday mornings. She enjoys the group themes and I enjoy being able to express my feelings through art. I’m surprised and amazed on how I am able process my grief and emotions through art creation. Family Night groups are my favorite as I get to come in and talk to families that I have gotten to know over the years. What I appreciate about Family Night is the opportunity to meet in a confidential space with other families. In the parent group, we all share about our doubts, fears, milestones and problems. We have the right to share or not and all of what is shared stays there. We don’t worry about taking each other’s problems home.
We look forward for the annual Kidrageous carnival that takes place in September and appreciate the Adopt-a-Family program during the Holiday season. Thanks to the Jacob’s Heart staff and all the wonderful donors that donate to this program, Itzel was able to smile and have a Christmas the same year she was diagnosed. I am happy to share such wonderful news that as of August 2009, Itzel has finished her treatment and it appears to be that her body is free from cancer. We continue to go to routine check ups every other month and I’m able to say she’s a cancer survivor. She began to transition on back to her “normal” life one month after she completed her treatment and began preschool. I am happy to see she is beginning to make friends and move on from such a challenging chapter in her life. I don’t think we would have been where we are now without the help and support from Jacob’s Heart. I can now say things will be okay.