Smiling in the Face of Cancer

Lisette Garcia, left, with Donovan, Paula and Angel.

In the vast, sprawling metropolis of Mexico City there lives a little girl named Paula. She is 8 years old, and in many ways she is just like other 8-year-old children. She giggles a lot, she likes to play dress up, and she really, really wants an Elsa doll from the Disney movie, Frozen.

The only real difference between Paula and most other 8-year-old girls is that she has been battling leukemia for the past year.

I met Paula in a little coffee shop in Mexico City a couple of weeks ago, along with four other children fighting cancer and their mothers. The sharing experience between them and my small group of journalists was arranged by Go Eat Give, organizer of the tour we were on, and a nonprofit foundation, Ayúdame a Sonreir ante el Cancer — help me to smile at cancer.

logo_sonreirThe mission of the foundation (ASAC for short) is providing support for children with cancer, and their families, to help them smile in the face of cancer, deal with the disease, obtain the best medical care possible and have friends by their side in the process. Lisette Garcia, president of the organization, says that the most important part of emotionally dealing with such a struggle is to still be able to enjoy life and have a childhood as much as possible. ASAC’s mission is to nurture the spirit of these children and help them through it with smiles.

For Paula, like all of these children, from the moment the diagnosis of cancer is made, their lives — and those of their whole families — are forever changed.

In Paula’s case, the diagnosis came in a roundabout way. The child had been bitten by a dog and was rushed to the hospital where she received 18 stitches.

“I thought that was going to be the worst of it,” her mother, Lorena, said. But through her examination and tests for the injury, the leukemia was discovered. That diagnosis, far more severe and life-threatening than a dog bite, was devastating.

“In the past year since Paula has had leukemia, it as if I have lived a thousand years. My life has changed a lot. Thanks to that dog bite, it was detected in time. The ASAC team is like angels here on earth for me.”

Paula and Lorena began researching the link between diet and cancer, and the health impacts of a good diet. Paula adopted an entirely new way of eating to fight her leukemia. She stopped eating meats and dairy, and instead eats a lot of salmon and other fish, salad, green juices and seeds. She still loves her mother’s Mexican specialties, especially pozole — which Lorena now makes with carrots, garbanzo beans and tofu.

Another child at the get-together was Luis Angel, 11, who had a malignant tumor on his leg which resulted in part of his leg being amputated. But he still does everything, Lisette says: runs, dances, plays basketball, rides a bicycle. Luis wants to make a video of himself doing these things so that he can show other children that there are no boundaries. The sky is the limit — even if you have cancer.

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Luis Angel, right, receives his Spiderman gifts. Photo by Keith Hajovsky

Luis Angel’s mother, Ana Luisa, said that with his diagnosis everything changed. “My family and I are so proud of him. He is the best gift God ever gave me.”

Although Luis Angel’s prognosis is not good, Ana Luisa says that he never stops fighting and never gives up hope.

ASAC offers these families, and many others (they currently serve about 150 kids with cancer, through 70 volunteers) programs inside the hospital to do things like make arts and crafts, hold parties, and offer support for the families and doctors. They also run a program outside the hospital which exists to grant the wishes of these children.

We had brought many items with us in order to fulfill the wishes of the children we were meeting that day, including Paula and Luis along with Donovan, Angel, Ana and Brandon. Considering what they are going through, the list of things they had wished for was so simple it was humbling: a Spiderman glove, lip gloss, skateboard games, a walkie-talkie…and of course, the Elsa doll, which I had brought for Paula.

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Paula and Shelley; photo by Keith Hajovsky

The look on her face when she opened it, when she clutched it to her chest while wearing an Elsa hat that another volunteer had brought, was priceless. Such a simple thing, to bring such a smile to her face. It felt like a very small thing to do, but if it brought joy in the face of feeling so helpless toward these children who are struggling so hard, then it meant a lot.

You can help fulfill other children’s wishes through ASAC by making a donation, too. They are also using donation money to purchase wigs for some of the kids, like Paula.

DONATE TO ASAC HERE

GEGGo Eat Give is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the United States, and so donations made through them are tax deductible.

11752451_10155765641095720_6783922285423552791_n“I’ve learned there are more good people than bad people,” Paula told us of her journey through cancer.

Mom Lorena echoes the sentiment. “I still say this is a beautiful life worth living. So many good things have come out of this — more good than bad. Paula and I believe we have the secret of healing — and that’s love.”

Check out Go Eat Give’s upcoming trips to Mexico City and other destinations including Bali, India, Cuba, Kenya and Nepal.

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