I walked into the back room of the coffee shop with butterflies in my stomach and a knot in my throat. How I would make it through this afternoon without completely breaking down was beyond me. Four of the sweetest children sat at one side of the table, and their mothers lined the other.
They had been anxiously waiting for us.
A small group of journalists were traveling through Mexico City with Go Eat Give, a nonprofit organization dedicated to merging culture, culinary and volunteerism with travel. Today we were invited to spend the afternoon talking with these brave kids who were in the midst of fighting cancer and their dedicated moms who have been by their sides through every tear shed.
It would be an emotional and inspiring afternoon where we would learn their painful struggles, small triumphs and hopes for the future.
The children are a part of an incredible nonprofit organization called Ayúdame a Sonreir ante el Cancer (ASAC), Help Me Smile at Cancer. Their goal is to make these children’s tough cancer experience a little better by making them smile every day. Also, to support them and their families through the tough times from the initial diagnosis and beyond.
A true blessing for these families.
Lisette Garcia, the president of ASAC, began the discussion by saying we would be talking as if we were sitting in our families living room. At times their would be unbearable emotion and at other times a joy that was filled with sincere gratitude.
Laughing, crying and of course, smiling was all okay. There was no judging here.
She led with questions like , “How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?”, “How is your life different now?” and “How do you help your friends feel better when they are in the hospital?”. Each child and parent had different responses and raw emotions along with each question asked.
The Sweet and Brave Children
Paula, a funny and extroverted eight year old, was visibly excited by us being there. She received her leukemia diagnosis after needing stitches for a nasty dog bite, a wound they are now grateful for or else her cancer may not have been detected in time.
What is unique about her story is that after the diagnosis, her mom told her that it was only a nasty bug that she had, because she wanted Paula always to believe that she was going to get better.
Believing positive thoughts help to heal.
Plus, her mom immediately changed her child’s diet to be solely organic and vegan, mostly cooked by herself, even though she couldn’t fry an egg beforehand. She now also sells her healthy Mexican meals each week out of her car to earn extra money for her family and their fight.
She does it all out of the most sincerest love.
When Paula’s mother spoke, her passion for her daughters wellbeing had us all in tears. Together they had made a pact that they would never stop fighting for her health. And they would do it together. With that said, she also holds on to the belief that after over 100 chemo treatments that Paula is cured and she won’t allow her to believe differently.
It was easy to make Paula smile, actually she spent most of the time making us smile by joking about how she talks really fast and her love of pajama parties at the hospital. She even razzed the server about forgetting to bring the green juice she asked for ten minutes ago.
My kind of girl.
One of my favorite stories she told was about finally getting her natural hair wig, something that is highly coveted amongst the children, yet difficult to acquire due to financial struggles. She talked about investigating how she could get her own, the exciting day she received it and going to the hair salon to get the cute little pixie cut she had asked for.
Her eyes beamed as she spoke.
Though we had brought many gifts with us (dolls, makeup, toys and such) nothing could quite compare to the gift of hair. Even when I asked the question “how can we help?”, a young boy named Angel immediately spoke up saying that he saw that a lot of us women had long beautiful hair and it would be his dream for us to consider donating it for his friends back at the hospital.
He started to cry. And so did I.
Through all of his heartache, pain and grief, he wasn’t thinking about himself at all. He wanted us to help his friends. We could all learn a few things from this wise boy. I also witnessed a similar strong bond when visiting an orphanage in Africa. It seems that when children share an unfortunate circumstance they create an unbreakable friendship — a family.
I also asked the four children what their wishes for the future were. Besides the very obvious of winning their battle against cancer, Paula wants to be a physician so she can help children with cancer just like herself. She says that when a young kid says that it hurts, she wants to be able say I know, I was once in your same place. Donovan wants to play on a real soccer field and Angel wants to fly in an airplane, which is impossible at the moment as he can’t be away from the hospital for more than a few hours at a time. Luis, a recent amputee due to a tumor on his leg and believer that the sky is the limit, wants to be a great basketball player, even better than Michael Jordan.
There couldn’t have been a room full of more inspiring or braver souls.
As the afternoon came to an end and my tissue paper was falling apart from overuse, I saw Paula out of the corner of my eye. She was stroking one of the writers long brown hair. She wasn’t talking about the luscious locks, just randomly chatting and running it through her hands because it was something she did not have.
It touched my heart.
At that time, there were eight children at the hospital that needed wigs. Each real hair wig cost about 4600 pesos, close to $300, an incredible expense for these families. Our small group pitched in enough money to purchase one, giving one child an amazing gift, but they still need 7 more and we all really want to be able to give them to them.
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How You Can Help
You can also donate money towards the purchase of a new wig through the Go Eat Give website. Any amount will help! Even if it is only have a few extra dollars. If all of my readers donated just a couple of bucks each, we can certainly help these children smile at cancer. XOXOXO.
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