A Mother's Dilemma in daughter's Cancer Journey

March 30

As a mom, it is our job to worry about the kids. Are they hungry? Did they sleep well? Was it a good day at school? Are they really feeling ill or is it an excuse to stay home? Sometimes, when we run out of things to worry about in the present, we start stressing about their future. There are people that will tell you to live in the moment and not stress about the minor things. However, when it comes to our children, we worry about all the little things because we have an uncanny ability to notice even the smallest of changes.

Yetica Del Angel with her three daughters, a few months after giving birth to baby Jerrica.

On a hot summer Sunday evening, my 11-year-old had just finished bathing and I was helping her apply lotion when I noticed speckles of red dots smattering across her legs and feet. Sure, it could have been a rash or bug bites, but something didn’t sit well with me. Call it a mother’s intuition or me “overreacting” but it just wasn’t normal. I called the doctor to make an appointment and was given Tuesday as the earliest someone could see her. By Monday afternoon, her condition had worsened. Jazmin started feeling different symptoms and ultimately came down with a fever. I had my suspicions but prayed the doctors would prove me wrong and tell me I was worried for no reason. This was the longest night ever. We arrived anxious to the appointment only to be told that all the necessary tests could not be performed at this facility. We were advised to go to the Emergency ward of the Children’s Hospital. It’s one thing to go to the hospital for immediate testing but when there is a whole staff waiting for you, you know something isn’t right.

Jazmin was being connected to all these machines, getting tube after tube of her blood drawn, and the doctor was examining her for a Lumbar puncture. I watched my child smile through the poking and prodding. I held my daughter through the flurry of activities happening around her as the skinning feeling in the pit of my stomach refused to budge. In that moment I needed my little girl’s strength to ground me as much as she needed me because in the next few minutes my worst fear would come into existence. Jazmin’s blood test results alone, without the Lumber puncture, was enough to confirm she had Leukemia. We were in a room with 6-7 disease specialists and oncologist trying to explain what was happening in Jazmin’s body. I heard their words for all of five minutes before collapsing to the ground as sob after sob racked through me. I had a flashback of two years ago when my husband received an unexpected call from Mexico with the news that  younger brother has Leukemia. I remembered his funeral two months later.  What happened two year ago was unfolding again in front of my eyes and all I could think was WHY MY DAUGHTER? What did she do to deserve this pain? How long has she been suffering? Did I miss any signs and symptoms? In that moment, guilt and fear wrapped my heart in a vice grip until it became too hard to breathe.

Jazmin, still smiling, while admitted in the hospital.

When your child is diagnosed with cancer, you spring into action. That first day we went in for testing, Jazmin was admitted to the hospital. The first step was removing the infection that was causing her fever. After that, Jazmin embarked on her 6-month intensive chemotherapy journey. The doctors told me it was highly likely that Jazmin would need to receive a bone marrow transplant. I had no idea what to expect. I had Jazmin’s oncology nurses explain the transplant treatment. I researched the procedure. I read up on the side effects. I asked the doctors how we can find a match and what the alternative options are in case Jazmin doesn’t have a match within the family. I learned about bone marrow donor centers that register potential lifesavers to give patients, like my Jazmin, a second chance at life. The doctors had no doubt we’ll find Jazmin’s match but I’m a mom; I need backup plans for my backup plans. Thankfully, our test results showed my two younger daughters, Jessica and baby Jerrica to be perfect matches for their elder sister.

Jazmin love being outdoors and playing with her two sisters. Unfortunately, that’s one of the things we now have to limit due to her compromised immune system.

Since Jazmin was diagnosed four months ago, I was selfishly focused on finding the savior for my child. I never took a minute to fully comprehend what it means for a person to be a bone marrow donor. I just thought if you have the chance to save a life, why wouldn’t you. Not until I had to ask Jessica to be a donor, I didn’t understand how fearful and overwhelming this can be.  How do I know that the donation will be risk-free for Jessica? How do I know that Jessica won’t get sick after giving away her cells? What happens if she does get sick? How do I explain big words like leukemia, transplant and stem cells to a six year old? I was at a cross-road. My Jessica is so young, this would be too much for her to physically bare. However, if she does not, my Jazmin won’t get the transplant she needs to survive. I know there’s only about a 30% chance of finding a match within the family but can I let Jazmin be that lifesaver?

In a split-second Jessica decided to embark on a journey very few us have the courage to take.

One day I went to Jessica and said to her Mommy needs to talk about something very important. My sassy spitfire little girl was all ears. I told her that because she looks so much like her older sister, she also has similar cells in her body. These cells can help Jazmin feel better. Despite being the middle child, Jessica has always been very protective of her sisters so it came as no surprise when she looked in eyes and said I’m very happy to help Jazmin. I don’t even know if she actually understands how critical this decision is, but I guess that’s the beauty of a child’s innocence. They don’t overthink. They just take action.

Jazmin’s cancer journey continues to be a learning experience for me. I’m taking it one day at a time. I am trying to make my daughters strong and not afraid of this situation. I want them to see that their mother is strong (although sometimes she is not) so that they have the confidence and faith necessary to travel their paths. As calming as it is to know that Jessica will be donating to Jazmin, I do not deny that sometimes the paralyzing fear of losing one of my daughters still invades me. But I’m learning. I’m learning about Leukemia and what it’s doing to my Jazmin. I’m learning about stem cell donations and how my Jessica’s will be impacted.

Being a victim of cancer is not something we can control. We can, however, decide to be someone’s fighting chance. As a mother, I understand your hesitation. If I had trouble gathering the courage to ask my own daughter to be a donor, I know my guards would go up if Jessica were to donate to a complete stranger.  The only way we can overcome our doubts, fears and distrust is by knowing what a transplant entails. I encourage you to read and learn about bone marrow/stem cell donation. Your concern for your child’s health and safety is legitimate. Please realize that the child you gave life to, can potentially give someone else a second chance at life, at no expense to their wellbeing. It is the best gift you can give to a family.

My family and I fight against cancer to keep this smile on Jazmin’s face for many more years to come